By Ken Zapinski, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
GreenMountain.com, the feel-good power company, is feeling bad today.
The Vermont-based company which markets "green" electricity - power made by windmills and other environmentally sensitive methods - will pay $100,000 to Pennsylvania to settle claims that its advertising misled consumers about its power costs by not including state taxes in its comparative rates.
"We at GreenMountain.com made a mistake. We discovered it, corrected it, and now we want everyone to know what we're doing about it," President and Chief Executive Dennis Kelly said yesterday. The company did not legally acknowledge any wrongdoing as part of its formal settlement with Attorney General Mike Fisher to settle the dispute.
The legal dispute is the latest bit of bad publicity for a company that burst onto the Pennsylvania scene last summer, selling its product with warm and fuzzy slogans like "Choose wisely. It's a small planet."
Earlier this year, it changed its name from Green Mountain Energy Resources to GreenMountain.com and tried to position itself as a green commerce Internet portal instead of simply a different kind of power company. But Wall Street wasn't interested and the company pulled its initial public offering at the last minute in June.
Last month, the company's top marketer, Kevin W. Hartley, who led the creation of the company when it was founded as a subsidiary of Green Mountain Power Co., resigned. Hartley's departure, along with the departure last year of founding CEO Douglas G. Hyde, means that most key personnel from the company's early days are gone.
GreenMountain.com spokeswoman Ann Ryan said Hartley left because he wanted to pursue other interests. Hartley said that he was glad he was able to get the ball rolling with GreenMountain.com, but that his interests in promoting business practices that help improve the environment go beyond the electric power industry.
The company, under the terms of its agreement with Fisher, will mail letters to consumers clarifying its rates and informing them that they can drop GreenMountain service if they desire. The $100,000 is to cover the cost of Fisher's investigation and other consumer protection measures.
In its ads, GreenMountain.com listed its rates without including state tax while it listed the prices of competing power companies including the tax. The effect was to overstate the amount of savings that customers would enjoy by switching to GreenMountain.com.
Kelly said the company made the mistake because of the way that it interpreted Public Utility Commission regulations.