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Consumers’ advocate wants Ohio regulators to ban ‘rip-off artist’

Pipe laid out in Central Indiana farmland on its way to Ohio in 2008. The $5 billion project was built to move natural gas from the Rocky Mountains to Ohio. FILE
Pipe laid out in Central Indiana farmland on its way to Ohio in 2008. The $5 billion project was built to move natural gas from the Rocky Mountains to Ohio. FILE

The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) is warning state regulators against what it called in a regulatory filing a “rip-off artist that preyed on the good people of Ohio in its marketing of natural gas.”

The office is asking the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to require Texas-based gas supplier Verde Energy to acknowledge before Ohio regulators a recent complaint filed against Verde by a bureau of Pennsylvania regulators.

Verde Energy is seeking to renew its PUCO certificate to expand into the Dayton area, an OCC spokeswoman said in an email. The OCC is asking the PUCO to permanently ban Verde from serving Ohio customers.

In a separate PUCO case, PUCO staff and Verde already reached a settlement for 18-month suspension from signing up new customers.

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“This new Pennsylvania complaint seeks over $8.8 million in civil penalties against Verde’s affiliate, Verde Energy USA, Inc,” the counsel’s office said in its filing, which was submitted Wednesday. “Alternatively, OCC moves for administrative notice of the Pennsylvania commission complaint.”

In the complaint by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, the commission seeks to revoke the license of Verde Energy for operating in Pennsylvania and to fine it nearly $9 million.

"There is good cause to grant OCC's motions because information regarding the Pennsylvania complaint is directly relevant to whether Verde is capable (it's not) of continuing to provide gas service to Ohioans and whether Verde is able to comply with PUCO rules and orders," the OCC filing states.

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that Pennsylvania utility investigators have proposed an $8.8 million fine against Verde Energy USA for allegedly committing “marketing violations, including switching customers’ energy supply without their consent and threatening to shut them off.”

The newspaper quoted a Verde statement, which said: “We do not condone misleading sales practices under any circumstances and are committed to providing green energy choices for Pennsylvanians in full compliance with all laws and regulations.”

A message seeking comment was sent Thursday morning to Houston-based Verde, which calls itself “one of the top suppliers of residential electricity and natural gas services in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Illinois.”