National Fuel files complaint against US Energy

Jen Carpenter

The City of Hornell is not the only entity concerned with the business practices of an energy savings company.

National Fuel spokeswoman Julie Coppola Cox said the heating company has recently taken actions against US Energy Corp., a company that has been scrutinized for going door-to-door in Hornell.

“We filed a complaint in federal court some months ago,” she said.

Cox said while the federal court case is still ongoing, National Fuel also recently filed a proposal with the state Public Service Commission to amend its rules for companies going door-to-door.

“It would just provide them with a new set of rules,” she said. “We’ve been concerned with the way US Energy Corp. has been soliciting residents.”

Cox said National Fuel hopes the PSC will take a harder look at the business practices of such companies.

“They regulate everything we do, including our rates,” she added.

City officials and residents complained about the company after it was learned representatives were going door-to-door offering residents cost-savings if they signed a five-year contract to purchase natural gas at a rate of $1.39 per cubic foot.

Hornell Mayor Shawn Hogan said that rate is about 33-percent higher than what residents pay now, and exceeds the expected peak of the natural gas rate.

Supervisor John Wicka, with the Western Area Operations Office of Consumer Services in Buffalo, was in Hornell Jan. 25 to hear residents’ complaints about the methods used by the company.

“He met with a number of people that filed complaints,” Hogan said.

Hogan said 44 residents filed complaints, which were sent to the district attorney’s office in Buffalo. The company has operations based in Buffalo and Toronto.

Hogan said he believes all the residents who signed contracts will be let out of those contracts without any penalty. He said there is nothing illegal about selling gas prices at a higher rate, but thinks it would be hard to entice residents to agree to that higher rate without distorting facts.

“Their sales practices certainly came into question,” he said.

The city also received a letter from Mindy A. Bockstein, chairperson and executive director of the state Consumer Protection Board, recognizing its efforts.

“I am writing to commend you for your efforts in advocating for and protecting the citizens of the City of Hornell who have complained about the unscrupulous tactics of door-to-door sales representatives from US Energy Corp.,” the letter states.

The letter also thanks the city for its interest in the board’s 2007 petition calling for an establishment of mandatory statewide marketing standards for competitive energy service companies in order to achieve a long-term solution to misleading and deceptive business and sales practices.

“It is our hope that there will be a swift and fair resolution of the immediate problems in Hornell,” the letter continues, “and that your actions will be further impetus for the development of new statewide rules governing training of and conduct by marketing representatives and a range of sanctions for ESCOs that do not comply with them.”

Officials also were concerned that company representatives were in Hornell without first obtaining a peddler’s permit, which is required for door-to-door solicitation. Hogan said the city has decided it will not pursue charges against the company for this, as was once reported.

“We’ve protected our citizens, hopefully,” Hogan said, adding he hopes other municipalities will do the same.