Updated: May 21, 2019
We have all experienced the robo-calls or poor marketing calls that "your car's warranty is about to expire" or that "The IRS has issued a warrant for your arrest" it's the new age version of the Nigerian prince in your inbox that wants to let you in on his inheritance but only if you would willingly send him your name and other info, including your bank information. You would think in your home, on your property, that you are safe from such schemes, but then you get a knock at your door, this time it is a person that is concerned because "you have not selected an electric supplier and your rates "could" change". After my own personal horror experience, which I will elaborate on through this article I did come up with a couple of questions, Who are these people? Who is sending them out?
To give you some backstory we first have to start at the beginning and this one is birthed between 1995 and 1997 when the first CCA (Community Choice Aggregation) bill was enacted in Massachusetts. This happened when the locals of Cape Cod and Martha's Vineyard formed the Cape Light Compact.
"The CCA chooses the power generation source on behalf of the consumers. By aggregating purchasing power, they are able to create large contracts with generators, something individual buyers may be unable to do. The main goals of CCAs have been to either lower costs for consumers or to allow consumers greater control of their energy mix, mainly by offering "greener" generation portfolios than local utilities."
Between the years of 1995-2000, the American Local Power Project was formed by founders of the Cape Light Compact group, Falmouth Selectman Matthew Patrick, Barnstable County Commissioner Rob O'Leary, and Massachusetts Senate Energy Committee Director Paul Douglas Fenn, who conducted the legal research and drafting of original CCA legislation during the early days of the California energy crisis. Subsequently similar laws were drafted and legal authorization passed in Ohio, as well as six other states between the years of 1996 and 2016.
Ohio's largest CCA was formed shortly after 1999, the Northeast Ohio Public Energy Council (NOPEC), who according to their website, "is a non-profit organization of local governments in Northeast Ohio working cooperatively to provide a competitive environment for energy cost savings for individuals and small businesses." It is made up of approximately 500,000 customers, in 138 cities and towns, and 8 counties. NOPEC's contracting process was led by Scott Ridley, an energy consultant who had worked with Fenn to develop Community Choice Aggregation in Massachusetts and was a consultant for the Cape Light Compact.
Now back to the original questions: Who are these people knocking on my door?, and Why? Well simply put they are called "Alternative Electric Providers". While the deregulation that came with CCA legislation created the ability for customers to shop for the best rates available and have a say so in their service and how it is sourced, it also opened the gates for several "companies" to be created. The door to door aspect is just a maturation of marketing and its needs to change with the times. Simply put, if you aren't really aware of the alternative you stick to what you know. So lets say if the common provider in your area is Duke.... do you look for someone else? Who really wants to, right? So these companies have to be in your face, at your door, at your grocery store, and so on. It is the way they continue to exist.
Personally, my experience began as I was picking up a few things from the Walmart on Ferguson. I was approached by a salesman from NRG who asked me about my bill and if I wanted to lower my rates. I was totally on board. Admittedly, I did not ask a lot of questions other than if there is a time period that I was locked in for. The gentleman was very forthcoming with his information even suggesting I call every three months to make sure I was getting the lowest rate possible. So I did it, I signed up. Everything I was told from the guy in the middle of the aisle was showing to be true. I never did see any kinds of drop in my bill but I credited that to the fact that I was not with them long enough to see any visible change...well not of savings any way.
Having that power of knowledge, that I could have a say in my bill, I was completely open to listening to the opportunity to "save" again when a questionable character knocked on my door from Statewise Energy and said it was time for me to pick my provider to ensure that I was getting the best rate available for my electric and gas service. He wasn't a "salesman" he was a guy doing a job. As I remember it, he was rather unprepared. Though he was not pushy he was...politely aggressive, acting to be concerned for me to get what was best. The questionable things I didn't realize until after the interaction and receiving my first bill were:
That I was never shown a company ID, I was given a business card but we all know how easy it is to get those.
That he was unprepared....He asked me for a pen, which I never got back. He asked me if I had bottled water, which if I did I would have given him because it was really hot that day. He also asked to "bum a cigarette" .... I do not smoke.
When I asked about contracts I was pivoted onto another subject, for Statewise Energy, the pivot was the "benefits" of having an awards account that would be credited with points each billing cycle that I could later purchase items and get discounted pricing on other items, kind of like Groupon. Later I realized my question was never answered.
I was told that my rate would not go up from where it was but that it would possibly drop.
That when the company was to call me to survey my interaction with the salesman and to confirm if he went through the appropriate information with me that he was not supposed to be present. I remember him waiting for about 10 minutes until I received the call and then made sure I understood that I was to mention that he was not there.
Imagine my surprise when I received my first bill and it had doubled in cost. For a limited or fixed income the slightest change in numbers could be debilitating to a budget so my already behind bill was going to be even harder to catch up on. The problem, delivery charges and riders. If you take a quote from one of my favorite movies,
"Omission is betrayal"
or if you are a Benjamin Franklin fan,
" Half a truth is often a great lie."
So while rate amounts were seemingly 2-3 cents cheaper per kilowatt -to start- there is a new number that comes into play, those riders and delivery fees. This was never disclosed to me while we stood on my porch, when I was on the phone with the follow up agent, or at any other point. So while I was not directly lied to I was given part of the information and formed and opinion from that information, but not only from the shady Statewise Energy but also NRG. Below you will see screenshots of each of my bills from times that I was with each company.
Duke (after I returned to normal billing. Duke as supplier and delivery. My bill was simply these two charges.
You will see with this screen grab of my NRG bill, whom I stated I had a good experience with that they also had riders, I was not informed of those:
Here you will see my bill from my short time with Statewise who had riders and fees.
By looking at my bills I will point out that I only focused on the monthly billing amounts as it they have the total number including all fees, unless otherwise stated. I was not made aware of delivery fees by Statewise or NRG. (Also the NRG screenshots are from two different bills.) My simple bill with Duke would be my control. Looking at my bill from NRG my gas services pretty much doubled the doubling was riders which were rolled into a number that created my 'current gas charges'. When looking at my Statewise bill my gas charges double. My electric charges seemingly dropped but then I was charged a 'supplier charge' that was more than my electric usage.
When I contacted Duke to question the "supplier charge" they stated that I had to contact my supplier as it was a fee from them. My supplier (Statewise) explained to me that it was similar to that of "getting a pizza delivered. You are charged for the items, taxes, and tip, and then add their fee to deliver it to you." I was in shock because this was crazy to me, especially in the amounts that I was seeing. I of course could not deal with it anymore and than asked to be directed to the people that could help me end my contract for service. That was also a gut wrenching call as I was told that there would be a $250 termination fee FOR EACH SERVICE. because I was "in a contract". At that point I didn't care and said do it because I planned to complain to the Ohio Attorney General and anyone else I could. I received and email and a paper copy of the disconnection confirmation but nowhere did it say that I would be billed $500 in termination fees as I was told over the phone. As of this time I have not been approached by collections, the company, or anyone else regarding this situation.
After this whole soap opera, I took the time to research Statewise Energy and found a slew of complaints on the BBB website. While I understand that no one ever goes on these sites to sing praises the stories that I read were familiar but also more horrific than my own. The further I researched I found that the State of Ohio does in fact have rules on how these door to door sales people dish their information to you but my question is who is policing this part? From what I can find, no one really; after the fact is too late, after your bill doubles or triples, or after your services get disconnected in the winter because you are going back and forth with these companies, no one is there to make it right... but you can always file a complaint. No one knows if they are accosting people, if they are being misleading, .... or if they are omitting important information. In some cases they have even been accused of setting up accounts with out account holder authorization.
A few months ago, again, I was approached by another person, walking in the streets offering to help me save money, this guy was more put together and looked like a sales rep, he was from IGS. I was reserved about doing this dance again and explained why. In response he threw a lot more at me, being chosen by The City, accreditation, and community service that they did in our area, but I was so calloused to this speech and was not having it. I left my husband to handle it and he was sent away, and not in a nice way.
With this new found knowledge and the arrival of warm weather I was prepared when I, once again, received a knock on my door from the SAME COMPANY - Statewise Energy, wanting to "help". Two doe eyed newbies were in shock when I explained my issues and asked them to leave my stoop. I added that I would not be changing my service providers and that I would be forfeiting all "discounts and savings" and choosing to pay my bill as is and to "remove me from their list" (They always have a list).
I approached my editor-in-chief about this whole idea when the following day, after shooing those ladies off my stoop, I received a letter from the IGS company stating that they had been chosen as our new supplier by the City of Cheviot and that the change would be made unless I opt'd out. I laughed because I was sure my husband was rude to the gentleman from IGS who approached us a few months prior, and how I had been so distrusting because of my experience with Statewise Energy. I called the city who confirmed that it was a legitimate letter and everything they stated was true. Oh what a tangled web of aggregation and aggravation.
As I worked on this article I received a phone call one morning from a gentleman named "Jack" (his name was obviously not "Jack") The caller ID stated that he was calling from Duke Energy and that he was calling because I had been "chosen to get a savings of 30% on my Duke bill" because "I pay my energy bills on time, and because I do not receive assistance on my bill" LIES!!! I told him that I at that point was not interested which he just could not believe and asked, "SO you don't want to save money" I laughed hard on the inside and said I have to call you back, can I reach you at the number on my bill? He told me no they were put on this special project to call out but that I could not call in. I told him I was not interested. His response, I will just call you back later. I told him not to do so because I knew it was a scam and not to call my phone again. I have experience with scammers, between Facebook and email, to now phone calls but not all people do and this is how the scammers that take advantage of the loose rules thrive. Be cautious, ask questions. If it sounds like a lie it probably is. Grab your phone, Google the company, call the main number, reach out to someone for help, and look out for your not so tech saavy family members.
Have you or a family member experienced any thing with these companies, at this point I would love to hear a positive but will also commiserate with you on your horror stories. The local groups on Facebook and the streams on Nextdoor indicate that people are on edge about these door to door salesman and are questioning their intentions. Tell us about your experience or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org