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Following energy issues in the state of Connecticut and beyond.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Negative News on Positive Energy

The folks at Positive Energy may want to consider a name change.

The Middlebury-based company is offering power generation alternatives to residential and commercial customers of the United Illuminating Co. and Connecticut Light & Power Co. But there has been little positive news about the company from Connecticut's press corps this summer.

First there was the news in June that the company hired former WTNH and WVIT consumer reporter Mike Boguslawski as vice president of consumer affairs. That decision was one that I criticized in a previous posting on this blog as a questionable attempt to cash in on Boguslawski's former public recognition in the state and give the company some consumer friendly cachet that it might not deserve.

Now, one of the state's top consumer issues reporters, George Gombossy, has uncovered some embarrassing details about the company and its president, Joseph Ventura. Gombossy, whose blog appears on the New Haven Register's web site, reported Sunday that Connecticut utility regulators were apparently unaware that Ventura had recently been fined for making false statements in a mortgage application when they gave the company its license to sell electricity to customers in the spring of 2009.

According to Gombossy, when Positive Energy filed documents with the state's Department of Public Utility Control in Feb. 2009, Ventura was not listed as the head of the company. But by April 2009, when the company had received regulatory approval to become an aggregator of electricity in the state, Ventura was listed as the president of the company, Gombossy writes in his blog.

The Connecticut Department of Banking in 2008 ordered Ventura to pay a $100,000 fine for lying on his mortgage application at a time when he was a mortgage loan officer, according to Gombossy.

Ventura has told Gombossy he is seeking to appeal the agency's fine but has declined further comment on his problems with the Banking Department as well as his not being listed as the head of the Positive Energy in the company's original DPUC filing.

DPUC Spokesman Phil Dukes told Gombossy he did not know if the agency's commissioners might have changed their approval of Positive Energy as an aggregator had they known of Ventura’s involvement with the firm or of his civil conviction. Now that Positive Energy already has a license, Dukes told Gombossy he did not believe that the license would be revoked based on the latest information uncovered about the company.

But the DPUC might want to rethink that decision. Some in the agency have privately told me that ever since he became chairman of the Department of Public Utility Control last year, Kevin DelGobbo (shown at left) has been concerned about how the public views the deregulation of electric power providers in the state.

Deregulation has proven to be controversial ever since it was rolled out in 2000. That's largely because overall electric rates in the state are the second highest in the nation, trailing only Hawaii.

On the other hand, about 468,000 consumers in the service territories of United Illuminating Co. and Connecticut Light & Power now purchase their electricity from alternative suppliers. So some people are saving money, even if those savings are based on some of the highest electric rates in the land.

But DelGobbo was concerned enough about the tactics of alternative power suppliers that in August of last year, he held a special meeting with the companies.

Officially, Dukes characterized DelGobbo's meeting with alternative power providers as a reminder of the importance of maintaining high ethical standards with the state's consumers.

“This is a golden opportunity for the industry to put its best foot forward,” Dukes said at the time. “We don’t want to see a repeat of what happened when choice came to the telecommunications industry and there were problems with slamming.”

But as someone who was a party to the meeting told me, "he (DelGobbo) basically told them there was a new sheriff in town and that they had better toe the line."

In the interest of fairness, Ventura deserves the opportunity to prove that he and Positive Energy didn't try to mislead the DPUC. But based on DelGobbo's past actions, this might be a good time for state utility regulators to take some kind of formal action that would allow them look a little deeper into the events surrounding Positive Energy licensing.

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