Staff at the Texas Public Utility Commission earlier accused Proton of being a serial rules violator. On Friday, the three commissioners approved a legal settlement under which the company will pay a $400,000 penalty and change ownership by July 1. The settlement also bans Proton owner Ramzan Ali from participation in any market overseen by the PUC for five years.
As reported earlier by Dave Lieber of the Dallas Morning News, Proton Energy has been operating out of a Shell gasoline station on Jacksboro Highway in Fort Worth. The PUC cited it in September for everything from marketing problems to breaking rules involving billing and disconnections — more than 1,000 violations in all.
The commissioners voted 3-0 to adopt the settlement, even as they questioned whether it should have been more stringent. An earlier recommended penalty against Proton was $2.8 million.
PUC Chair Nelson said she was particularly irked about the use of “switch-holds” by Proton against its customers. Switch-holds can keep customers from obtaining electric service from other providers. Chair Nelson said they were inappropriately applied by Proton. “To me, that’s unconscionable,” she said.
In the filings at the PUC, Proton has acknowledged violations relating to the protection of customer deposits and those relating to the disconnection of service during extreme weather, but disputed other allegations.
The Commissioners on Friday also discussed whether the PUC needed clearer authority from the Texas Legislature to ban bad actors from the retail electric market. Although a market ban against Mr. Ali is included in the settlement, Commissioner Ken Anderson questioned whether commissioners could have ordered such a ban if the case instead had been fully litigated.
Is a policy analyst for TCAP, a coalition of cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.