It would be the first time since 2003 that the Ontario Energy Board has issued financial penalties to companies that typically use fleets of door-to-door salespeople, some of them quite aggressive, to sell long-term electricity and natural gas contracts at a fixed rate.
The board said it plans to issue a $200,000 fine to Toronto-based Universal Energy Corp. and a $100,000 fine to Summitt Energy Management of Mississauga for making "false, misleading or deceptive statements to consumers."
It found on several occasions sales representatives from Universal Energy and Summitt Energy told consumers electricity prices were poised to go higher because a cap on rates would soon be lifted, or subsidies that have kept prices artificially low would be eliminated and result in higher rates.
Both companies also failed on several occasions to provide valid "reaffirmation" of a contract signed at the door, which is required by law and is done through a follow-up phone call to the customer.
Eric Pelletier, a spokesperson for the regulator, said Universal Energy and Summitt Energy have 15 days to request a hearing from the board. The board will issue an order to pay the fine if no hearing is requested. He said the penalties send an important message to the industry. "It helps to draw the line on what behaviour is acceptable and what is not. I'm sure other market participants will take notice."
Gerald Haggarty, president of Summitt Energy, said he would not comment until the company had more time to assess the findings. Summitt, according to the board, was found to have seven invalid reaffirmations and three transactions considered an "unfair practice."
Universal Energy president Nino Silvestri wouldn't say if the company will request a hearing.
"They reviewed about 450,000 calls between 2007 and 2008 and over that period they found 57 were inappropriate," said Silvestri, adding that of the 57 only seven contracts were set up. "Of the seven that flowed it's fair to say it was an error on our part."
He said it's a small margin of error considering the sample size. "I'm very disappointed with this order."