“Residents have reported individuals soliciting door to door and inquiring about natural gas service,” officials said.
Pennoyer Avenue resident Barry Bennis said he received a call from his wife after she was approached by a solicitor at their home Wednesday morning. She told him a woman wearing a yellow hardhat, with the word "Energy" on it, wanted to see their gas bill, gas meter and backyard.
The resident told the solicitor to come back later when her husband was at home. No one returned to their house that evening.
Michigan Gas Utilities spokesman Nick Krzeminski said people should not show anyone their bills because they contain account and meter numbers.
Although deregulation has allowed Customer Choice companies to operate in Michigan, customers should check for identification and make sure the company is licensed and a legitimate company in the state of Michigan, Krzeminski said.
Grand Haven Public Safety Director Jeff Hawke said solicitors have to be licensed to operate in the City of Grand Haven. He said no one is licensed at this time.
Hawke said door-to-door solicitors should be able to show a City of Grand Haven solicitor's license with the city seal on it, the clerk's signature and a "paid" stamp.
Two solicitors from Just Energy were located late Thursday afternoon and ticketed, Hawke said. They were wearing white “Just Energy” T-shirts and visors labeled “Just Energy.”
The chief advises residents to be very cautious about allowing a solicitor into their home.
"Most business can be completed at the door or outside," he said. "When in doubt, call 911 and ask that an officer respond to investigate. Get a good description of suspicious persons and vehicles involved, including the license plate number."
Cassie Bennis, Barry Bennis’ daughter, said she signed up with an alternative energy company in 2012 after someone came to her door.
“I didn’t really understand what it was,” she said. “I was in a hurry. He talked really fast. It was supposed to save me a lot of money.”
Cassie said since she signed the contract, her gas bills have almost doubled.
Krzeminski said since deregulation in 2002-03, Michigan Gas Utilities has nine different Customer Choice companies who can solicit customers.
“They become the provider of natural gas,” he said. “We still bill the customer. We still investigate gas leaks and we still own the equipment.”
The state Public Service Commission regulates Michigan Gas Utilities, Krzeminski said. Michigan Gas has to go before the commission every month for approval of its gas rates. The other companies do not, and Krzeminski said the other companies can raise and lower their rates at will.
“They can increase until the market over-reacts and customers start to complain,” he said. “Then they’ll take it back down again.”
Michigan Gas kept its price at about $5 per 1,000 cubic feet (MCF) all winter, while some of the Customer Choice companies were temporarily above $15/MCF. Currently, Michigan Gas is at $5.24/MCF, Krzeminski said.
Cassie Bennis’ most recent bill showed she was being charged $8.45/MCF through her supplier, Just Energy.
If someone is using an alternative company, it will show up on their bill as a commodity charge, and it will state the name of the company, Krzeminski said.
“Our bill will say GCR (gas cost recovery factor),” he said.
Just Energy spokeswoman Nancy Donnaperna said their representatives do not wear hard hats.
“All of our agents are expected to have a badge and clothing as well, so their identity is completely visible,” she said.
Donnaperna said she would be surprised to see anyone representing Just Energy in a yellow hat.
“Our colors are green and blue,” she said.
Donnaperna said she did not know whether or not they had employees working in the Grand Haven area this week. She planned to inquire, but had not responded back as of press time.
Krzeminski said they can’t stop the alternative companies from going into Michigan Gas Utilities’ customer service area.
“I would not let anybody in my backyard if they’re not your local gas provider,” he cautioned.