Proton EnergyA Texas retail electric provider finds itself in hot water with the Texas Public Utility Commission, which accuses the Fort Worth-based company of “more than 1,000 violations” of agency rules.

The company, identified as “Proton Energy,” took actions that infringed upon core customer protections, according to PUC staff.  Agency staff recommend more than $2 million in penalties, and also wants to revoke the company’s permission to operate in Texas.

After being contacted for comment for this newsletter, a Proton Energy representative disputed the PUC allegations and said that Proton Energy treats the “customer like a king.”  The company representative characterized some of the violations alleged by the PUC staff as “nonsense” and stated that others were the result of procedural errors that the company has since corrected.

In written comments provided to the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power, the company official further stated that  a small minority of its customers behave like thieves, “so my job is to make sure good customer(s) should not suffer” because of the actions of unscrupulous ones.

The PUC staff has alleged the company’s actions “pose serious risks to the health, safety, and economic welfare of the public.” Among the company’s alleged rule violations, according to PUC staff:

  • On at least 407 occasions, Proton disconnected customers for non-payment of their bills without providing those customers proper notice. At least 29 of these attempted disconnects were initiated by Proton … during extreme weather events, in further violation of Commission rules.
  • On at least 288 occasions, Proton improperly placed switch-holds on customer accounts. In one … territory, customers on an improper switch-hold remained on that switch-hold for an average of 317 days. In the other … territory served by Proton, customers with improperly applied switch-holds spent an average of 213 days on a switch-hold.
  •  On at least one occasion, Proton failed to provide a discount to a customer entitled to such discounts under the Commission’s (low-income) assistance program.
  •  Proton has shown a reckless indifference in response to communications directly from the Commission. … In nearly a quarter of all complaints against Proton, it either failed to respond (to agency staff) altogether or responded after the deadline provided in the Commission’s substantive rules.
  •  Proton provided false or misleading information in response to Requests for Information by the Commission’s Oversight & Enforcement Division during its investigation of Proton’s use of switch-holds.

The PUC staff alleged that “Proton’s violations … are among the most egregious violations that a (Retail Electric Provider) can commit and demonstrate an utter disregard for compliance with … Commission’s substantive rules.”

Ultimately, it’s up to the PUC’s three appointed commissioners to rule on the staff recommendations. The Proton representative said the company looks forward to providing its side of the story during that regulatory process. A link to the PUC’s staff allegations against Proton can be found here.puc_hp_logo

Under the PUC’s complaint process, customers can file a complaint against a company with the agency’s Office of Customer Protection. Agency employees then make an inquiry with the company, which has 21 days to respond. A PUC investigator evaluates the company’s response to determine whether it failed to follow the law.

Customers wishing to file complaints regarding their electric service can do so through the agency’s Office of Customer Protection, which can be reached at 1-888-782-8477, by email at customer@puc.state.tx.us, or online at http://puc.state.tx.us/consumer/complaint/Complaint.aspx.

Texans can also review specific complaint data for competitive electric providers at http://powertochoose.com.
— R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 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.
 

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