State: Energy firm was deceptive

Consumers were urged Thursday to be careful about selecting independent energy service companies by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who announced nearly $2 million in refunds for customers of a company that used deceptive practices.

The refunds are being mailed to 2,700 New York customers of Columbia Utilities LLC and Columbia Utilities Power LLC, which "lured consumers with false promises of lower rates, and instead fleeced consumers with much higher bills," according to the announcement. Refunds include 343 checks distributed in Central New York.

Schneiderman urged the state Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities as well as the independent energy suppliers, to "require real public that consumers can benefit from competition and avoid deceptive offers." He added, "the absence of readily comparable price data hurts both consumers and honest energy providers who are playing by the rules."

Some independent energy suppliers may go door-to-door and say they are representing utility companies such as National Grid, said Jennifer Givner, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s office. She noted that the energy being offered comes from the same generating facilities, and if high savings that are mentioned "look too good to be true...they might be."

Among tips from Schneiderman for choosing energy suppliers:

¿ Consumers are not required to choose an alternative supplier

¿ Marketers cannot pretend to contact you on behalf of your current utility company

¿ Marketers should identify which company they work for

¿ Beware of high pressure sales tactics to persuade you

¿ Get savings offers in writing

¿ Do your own research and compare rates

¿ Companies are required to provide a Consumer Bill of Rights in writing

¿ Residents have 3 days after accepting offer to cancel without cost

Most independent energy service companies do operate by the rules, said Givner, but there have been "a few bad apples." Overall, the companies date back to the 1990s, and were allowed in efforts to enhance competition that could bring pricing advantages for the public.

A Public Service Commission website,, has information about energy services companies that have met PSC and utility requirements to provide energy supply, electricity or natural gas, and other services. Data on rates and the number of complaints received per company are included, although there are concerns about its extent; there is "no readily available way for consumers to compare prices between their local utility and independent energy service companies," said Schneiderman’s announcement.