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Alternative Energy Provider Accused Of Slamming

5:08 PM, Jul 11, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA) -- Norma Ortiz remembers the day when a man approached her with an offer to cut the costs to light, cool and power her home through the seasons.

"At first, they proposed to her that they would give her a discount like the one PEPCO was giving," she says through an interpreter.

Ms. Ortiz says she listened, but did not authorize anyone to switch her service from PEPCO to alternative energy provider Starion Energy.

"What happened to Ms. Ortiz is literally called slamming.  It's a process, known in the energy market, when someone is switched to a different energy provider without their knowledge or consent," says Rebekah Mason.

Mason is an attorney with the Legal Counsel for the Elderly based in D.C.  And, she says since the change three months ago, her client's bills have tripled.

"Is it more than it would have been if you stayed at PEPCO?,"  asks WUSA 9's Lesli Foster.

"Oh yeah!," Ms. Ortiz says.

"Unless you notice the fine print, you don't know you're getting services through Starion," says Mason.

It can be confusing.  Although Ms. Ortiz had been switched to Starion, PEPCO still sent out the monthly bill.   And, she isn't the only person who takes issue with Starion's business practices. 

We found 150 complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau against Starion, which earned it an "F" rating.

Starion Energy is licensed to provide electricity thanks to deregulation.  The company says that it can help you save money on your electricity bill by determining its own rates and terms.

But, Mason says that consumer choice also comes with a price.

"As long as they're approved, they can bill at any rate whereas PEPCO must only bill at a rate that is approved by the D.C. Council.

While LCE fights the charges with Starion, they've told Ms. Ortiz not to pay her bills.  And as this saga plays out, she is concerned that her neighbors were slammed, too.

In an upcoming hearing, she will tell the D.C. Public Service Commission that they need to do more to protect other consumers.

"How can it be stopped even sooner than it is," she says.

We tried reaching out to Starion Energy but haven't heard back.  The company was invited by the Public Service Commission to testify tomorrow about this issue. 

And, the PSC is now investigating Starion's business and solicitation practices.

PSC Consumer Bill of Rights

So, what can you do to protect your energy bills? 

Well, the folks at Legal Counsel for the Elderly say regardless of your age, you should protect your utility account numbers like they are your social security numbers.

And, review your bill closely each month to make sure your service hasn't been slammed.

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