Plug and Played: 6 Shady Power Providers

The retail electric market attracts operators with little experience—but lots of history running afoul of regulators.

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shoutsfromtheabyss/5328924301/sizes/z/">Tom Taker</a>/Flickr


The retail electric market has drawn scores of operators with little experience in the energy business—but lots of history running afoul of regulators. A sampling:

Ambit Energy

Dallas-based electricity and natural gas provider operating as a multilevel-marketing company, in which salespeople make money from signing up other salespeople.

Of note: Cofounder Jere Thompson Jr. also helped start CapRock Communications, which partnered with an Enron telecom subsidiary to build a Southwestern fiber-optic network. CapRock settled a securities fraud class action suit in 2003 for $11 million.

Legal trouble: Accumulated $57,500 in Texas fines between 2010 and 2012 for violating customer protection rules.

Just Energy Group

Publicly traded company whose affiliates include Hudson Energy, Commerce Energy, Momentis, Amigo Energy, and Tara Energy.

of note: Has more than 4 million customers.

Legal trouble: Fined $200,000 by New York attorney general in 2008 for deceiving customers; predecessor US Energy Savings paid $1 million for misleading consumers in Illinois in 2009; Just Energy Group sued by salespeople for affiliate Commerce Energy in Ohio in 2012 for failing to pay wages and overtime (case is ongoing).

ACN

North Carolina-based MLM company that sells everything from phone service to home security.

Of note: Donald Trump has featured ACN on The Celebrity Apprentice.

Legal trouble: $45,000 Pennsylvania fine over “slamming” allegations in its electricity business in 2002; accused of being a pyramid scheme by state of Montana in 2010 (case settled after a state investigation laid the blame with rogue contractors).

IDT Energy

New Jersey-based shop originally part of a telecom company.

Of note: As a New York City council member, future Mayor Bill de Blasio raged against IDT, warning of its door-to-door marketing scams and pledging to “drive [it] out of New York.” Advisory board members of parent company Genie Energy have included Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch.

Legal trouble: Fined $39,000 in Pennsylvania in October 2013 for abuses including slamming.

Great American Power

Georgia-based company founded as part of a telemarketing outfit.

Of note: Once called a single prospect 14 times in 26 days.

Legal trouble: Fined $10,000 in Pennsylvania in 2013 for harassing said prospect.

Energy Plus Holdings

Philadelphia-based company founded by former credit card executives, including Richard Vague, chairman of the Philly Fringe Festival.

Of note: Offers frequent-flier miles, Amtrak discounts, and other rewards to sign up.

Legal trouble: $14 million class action settlement in February 2013 over allegations that Energy Plus promised consumers big savings, only to deliver rates (two or three times) higher than those of local utilities.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate