action:frontpage | category:NEWS02 | adString:N/A | zoneID:17

Home » News » Business

May 06. 2013 9:49PM

Power seller goes door-to-door to get customers to switch from PSNH

Agents claiming to be from the "electric company" were knocking on doors in Nashua and Londonderry over the weekend, asking to see electric bills and prompting concerned customers to call Public Service of New Hampshire.

A sales company hired by Glacial Energy was directing the door-to-door campaign, hoping to get customers to switch from PSNH to Glacial for the energy supply portion of their electric bill.

The canvassing had nothing to do with PSNH, said company spokesman Martin Murray.

A spokeswoman for Glacial Energy said the subcontractor handling the sales effort, the AGR Group, was asked to suspend the campaign pending further investigation.

"We reached out to AGR, and we have asked them to stop the campaign until we can get to the bottom of this," said Jessica Evans, vice president for customer service speaking from Glacial corporate headquarters in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. "We will also be sending up someone from our office to meet with them directly in New Hampshire."

AGR, with East Coast headquarters in Clearwater, Fla., claims on its website to have a 10-year reputation among retail energy suppliers "as the most trusted partner for outbound telemarketing services, canvassing, appointment setting and lead generation." Messages left with AGR for comment were not returned.

Murray noted that PSNH received several calls from customers over the weekend, reporting individuals representing themselves as PSNH employees.

One said the agents were asking for utility bills and phone numbers and then "they would have someone call the customer to get them signed up for their rate."

Another caller claimed the agents identified themselves as PSNH employees, "and stated it was their job to go to customers' homes to check their utility bill to make sure it was correct."

One agent at a home in Nashua said Glacial was a subcontractor for PSNH, hired to make sure everyone was "being charged the right amount," and saying that, "some customers are paying a penny more than they should be."

Glacial is one of several competitive energy suppliers that have become active in the New Hampshire residential electric market since the decline in natural gas prices enabled competitors to offer a rate lower than the PSNH default rate. Some telemarketers have used the term "default rate" to confuse consumers by telling them if they don't switch, they will be in default, which is technically true. A consumer who stays with PSNH is on the "default rate."

The Glacial Energy offer for New Hampshire currently posted on its website stands at 8.59 cents per kwh, compared to the existing PSNH energy rate of 9.54 cents.

If a pending PSNH rate request is approved by the PUC and goes into effect on July 1 as proposed, the company's energy service rate would be cut to 8.98 cents per kwh.

ENH Power is offering 7.28 cents per kwh, and North American Power is offering 7.29 cents, both with a six-month guarantee. PSNH delivers the power and bills the customers, no matter who provides the energy. There are at least seven competitive electric power suppliers now vying for New Hampshire customers, with four more seeking approval.

The most active in terms of marketing have been ENH Power, North American Power and Glacial Power. A spokesman for ENH Power said that company does not use door-to-door canvassing or telemarketing, nor does North American Power.

"We do a lot of media, go to events, trade shows, direct mail, but we do not go door-to-door, and we don't do outbound sales calls," said ENH spokesman Will Fessenden.

Troubling testimony

The marketing techniques used by competitive energy suppliers have become a matter of concern for the Public Utilities Commission as the competition heats up. The difference between the PSNH default rate and current competitive rates would be narrowed if the lower PSNH rate is approved, which is likely. There's a window between now and July 1 when the 9.54 cent per kwh PSNH price can be used for competitive marketing.

At a March 15 PUC hearing, Stephen R. Hall, a PSNH manager, was asked if he knew of marketers or suppliers engaging in questionable sales practices.

"Yes. Some currently active marketers have already shown a propensity to do whatever it takes to sign up customers," he said. "A caller representing North American Power recently called my own home trying to have me switch from PSNH's energy service by stating that PSNH's rates will be increasing on July 1." One of Hall's responsibilities is to help PSNH set prices to recover its actual energy costs, so he knew that was not the case.

A spokesman for North American Power denied the call took place as represented by PSNH. "North American Power refutes PSNH's claims made in regards to that call," said company spokesman Tiffany Eddy.

Hall also alluded to Glacial in his testimony.

"I am also aware of another supplier, Glacial Energy of New Hampshire, informing a potential customer that he must choose a new electricity supplier because PSNH is no longer in the electric generation business," he said. "That was news to the customer - who happens to be a PSNH employee at Schiller Station."

Evans said Glacial would aggressively pursue the complaints about weekend sales calls in Southern New Hampshire.

"I can assure you that will not be tolerated," she said. "That is not how Glacial conducts its business, nor is it the way we want to be represented. Anyone who is misrepresenting Glacial will be pulled off that campaign immediately."

Murray said consumers should be skeptical of anyone suggesting a utility company connection. "There is typically no reason at all for PSNH to enter a home, and we don't as a standard practice, go door to door," he said. "We read meters, which are almost exclusively outside."

dsolomon@unionleader.com