Attorney General James protects consumers from unscrupulous energy services company

AG James fines Columbia Utilities $500,000 for banned door-to-door marketing

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James has taken action to protect consumers, securing more than $555,000 from an energy services company that engaged in prohibited marketing practices over a two-month period . Columbia Utilities, LLC and Columbia Utilities Power, LLC (Columbia Utilities) have secured hundreds of gas and electric contracts through prohibited door-to-door marketing to convince consumers statewide to use its services. An earlier settlement with Columbia Utilities and the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) prohibited the company from door-to-door sales. Columbia Utilities paid $500,000 in penalties for violating the previous settlement and is paying nearly $60,000 in full restitution to affected consumers.

“Protecting consumers from unscrupulous companies is a top priority for my office,” said Attorney General James. “This hefty penalty makes Columbia Utilities pay the price for its wrongdoing and guarantees that it will follow the rules. Consumers can trust that my office will protect them from companies that break the rules. Companies that violate agreements with our office are warned that such conduct will not be tolerated.

Columbia Utilities is a repeat offender. In 2011, an investigation by OAG revealed that the energy service company was misleading consumers. As a result, the company agreed to pay $2 million in restitution to consumers misled by false promises of savings. The agreement also imposed restrictions on the company’s business practices. In 2014, the agreement was amended to impose an additional restriction, completely prohibiting Columbia Utilities from engaging in door-to-door marketing without prior OAG approval. Nonetheless, in November 2020, the company violated the terms of the settlement and resumed door-to-door marketing for two months, before OAG learned the ride and quickly shut it down. During this period, Columbia Utilities convinced 912 consumers statewide to sign 1,334 contracts. Prohibited door-to-door marketing was primarily in and around New York, Albany, Syracuse, Rochester, Ithaca, Utica and Watertown.

To resolve Columbia Utilities’ earlier settlement violation, the company paid $500,000 in penalties plus full restitution under each of the prohibited contracts for every dollar consumers paid in excess of what they would have paid to their public services. Columbia Utilities is providing restitution to affected consumers without requiring any further action from consumers. In addition, every contract with Columbia Utilities will terminate unless the consumer affirmatively elects to continue the contract with the company. Additionally, Columbia Utilities’ ban on door-to-door marketing will persist unless the company submits an appropriate OAG-approved marketing plan.

The settlement with Columbia Utilities is part of OAG’s long-standing ongoing investigations into energy service companies (ESCOs) and their practices. As a result of these investigations, ESCOs have paid millions of dollars in restitution and penalties. With OAG’s recent settlement with Family Energy, over the past five years OAG has recovered over $7.5 million in settlements from six ESCOs.

The Columbia Utilities investigation was led by Assistant Attorney General Jason L. Meizlish of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection, under the supervision of Deputy Bureau Chief Laura J. Levine and Bureau Chief Jane M. Azia, with the help from data analyst Anushua Choudhury in the research and analysis department. The research and analytics department is led by Deputy Director Megan Thorsfeldt and Director Jonathan Werberg. The Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau is part of the Division of Economic Justice, which is headed by Chief Deputy Attorney General Chris D’Angelo and overseen by Senior Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.

Veronica J. Snell