Green energy firm may not be good deal

December 17, 2010
By

Rebeca Oliveira

Representatives from utility company Just Energy are in Jamaica Plain, trying to sell residents green electricity.

The company is charging potential customers more than NStar, and has several bad ratings with Better Business Bureaus (BBB) across the country, the Gazette has learned. In Chicago and upstate New York BBBs’ files show it has F ratings.

When a Just Energy representative knocked on Bill Mitchell’s door in Stonybrook last week, Mitchell took the brochure and asked the young man to come back. Mitchell then Googled the company.

“It seemed to be enough of a scam that I didn’t want to sign up anytime soon,” Mitchell told the Gazette.

In Illinois, the attorney general filed suit against Just Energy, then known as US Energy Savings in 2008, citing more than 2,000 complaints about the company’s sales tactics. The suit was settled in 2009, allowing hundreds of Illinois consumers to terminate contracts and receive $1 million in restitution from the company. US Energy Savings denied the allegations in the lawsuit, according to a May 2009 press release from the Attorney general’s office.

In a February 2008 press release, the attorney general’s office alleged that Just Energy sold “fixed-rate gas contracts using deceptive sales tactics that falsely promise[d] significant consumer savings in violation of the Illinois Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act.”

“US Energy is purposely deceiving consumers,” attorney general Lisa Madigan said in that release. “Many of these families signed up for this program based on the false claim that they would save on their monthly utility bills. Instead, US Energy locked them into a contract that actually charged them more for natural gas,” she said.

The BBB reports from various places include hundreds of alleged misbehaviors, called “complaints,” “serious complaints,” “failure to respond to complaints,” “unresolved complaints” and “failure to resolve underlying cause(s) of a pattern of complaints.”

Even in Cleveland, where Just Energy has an A- rating, it still has complaints regarding billing or collection issues and selling practices.

Gord Potter, executive vice president for regulatory and legal affairs for Just Energy, told the Gazette in an e-mail from his Ontario, Canada office that “the company entered into a settlement with the attorney general and admitted no wrongdoing.” He also wrote to say that their “trained sales people use plain-language contracts with customers,” and that new customers are contacted by an independent third party “spelling out the terms and conditions of our product before enrollment.”

Just Energy’s telephone representatives were unable to tell the Gazette what kind of green energy—wind, solar, or biomass—they were selling. Potter, in his email, said that Just Energy uses biomass energy from “Northfolk” [sic] County and the Haverhill area in Massachusetts.

The term “biomass” is usually used to describe organic garbage. The waste material is gathered into furnaces, where it is burned. The heat is used to boil water in the boiler, and the energy in the steam is used to turn turbines and generators.

Just Energy is currently offering Boston-area customers natural gas at 10.12¢ per kilowatt/hour (kWh) for green energy generation.

NStar, meanwhile, currently offers 100 percent wind-powered electricity at 9.376¢ per generated kWh for residential customers, according to its website. NStar wind power is generated at Maple Ridge Wind Farm in upstate New York. They also offer 50 percent green energy options, for 8.817¢ kWh. NStar’s basic services currently cost 7.980¢ per kWh, but vary slightly on a monthly basis.

Delivery charges are not included in Just Energy’s or NStar’s prices.

Mitchell said the representative who came to his door, along with another Just Energy employee, seemed like “nice young kids…but they didn’t seem too together about what they were offering.

“They didn’t seem like bad guys, just kids looking for an opportunity, and not very well-trained,” Mitchell added.

Just Energy can be reached at 866-587-8674.

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