The transition of natural gas service from CenterPoint Energy to new owner Summit Utilities has not gone as well as promised this year, enraging customers.
A class action lawsuit was filed against Summit Utilities on Thursday, March 2, claiming the gas company is not working in good faith and is price-gouging its customers.
The Poynter Law Group filed the lawsuit on behalf of customers in Arkansas and stated it’s to help customers from skyrocketing gas bills and improper billing practices.
According to the complaint filed in the Pulaski County Circuit Court, in April of 2021 Summit Utilities agreed to purchase CenterPoint Energy for $2.150 billion. The lawsuit cites documents filed with the Arkansas Public Service Commission that stated that Summit assured a “seamless transition” from CenterPoint to Summit with “no disruption of customer and supplier plans and expectations.”
The suit claims this promise has proven to be false and that a one-year transition period was granted to Summit, which ended in December 2022. The suit also states that “Summit has utterly failed to appropriately provide utility gas service to its customers in Arkansas, and moreover, has price-gouged them with substantial over-billing, and further manipulated their billing methodology.”
Summit has attributed reported issues to a computer transition from CenterPoint, higher commodity natural gas prices because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the coronavirus pandemic.
Since January of this year, Summit customers have complained of excessive prices, failing to credit customer monthly payments after made directly to Summit or through autopay, enrolling customers into its autopay program and taking sums of money without their customers’ knowledge and consent.
The day after the lawsuit was filed Summit President and CEO Kurt Adams addressed individual issues in an email. Adams acknowledged that the company’s implementation of a new computer system combined with “unusually” high winter energy costs have led to customer frustration.
The email addressed cost of gas, billing accuracy and customer wait times. “As a utility, Summit does not profit from the cost of gas,” Adams said. He added that the gas price is billed accurately based upon commodity cost approved by regulators.
In regards to billing issues, Adams said the company has heard from customers about billing process errors and confusion. He acknowledged that this has caused customers to lose trust in the company, and continued to assure that billing issues have been resolved and are now accurate.
Adams also acknowledged customer service wait times, stating that Summit has hired an additional 50 customer service representatives in Arkansas and Oklahoma since Nov. 1, and added that this had created an average call wait of seven minutes.
While no court date has been set yet, on Friday a temporary restraining order was filed against Summit Utilities, which was filed by two Arkansans on behalf of themselves and other customers.
“That order, if it’s granted, would be in effect for 14 days, in which time hopefully the court can get the parties in front of the court to make further decisions regarding that order,” said attorney Scott Poynter.
If the restraining order is allowed, customers will be permitted to forego their monthly gas bills without losing their natural gas service.
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