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Cooper wins $300,000 in refunds for thousands of propane customers in SE NC

Release date: 1/18/2006

Propane company repays 4,000 customers, agrees not to charge extra fee

Wilmington: More than 4,000 consumers in southeastern North Carolina have gotten their money back from a propane company thanks to refunds negotiated by the N.C. Attorney General’s Office, Attorney General Roy Cooper announced today.

“We expect companies to honor their contracts, not tack on surprise fees consumers haven’t agreed to,” said Cooper. “I’m pleased that we were able to work with this company to get money back for thousands of consumers across southeastern North Carolina.”

Diversified Energy of Wilmington sent notices out to thousands of its customers in June of 2005, informing them that they would have to pay an extra fee of $59 to $75 the next month if they had used less than 200 gallons of propane during the previous year. Approximately 7,500 customers initially received letters informing them that they would have to pay the added fee because of “significant increases in our business expenses” such as “the skyrocketing cost of STEEL.” Neither the fee nor the minimum annual requirement was included in customers’ contracts with the company.

Cooper’s office began looking into the extra fee based on calls and complaints from Diversified Energy customers. A total of 8 consumers filed written complaints and many more called the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.

Diversified Energy has repaid nearly $300,000 to more than 4,000 customers who paid the fee under an agreement worked out by Cooper’s office. Cooper was also able to prevent the company from charging the extra fee to approximately 3,500 other customers, saving these consumers more than $200,000.

The company provides propane from offices in Wilmington, Sanford, Dunn, Wake Forest, Whiteville, Tabor City, Shallotte, Burgaw, Wallace, Elizabethtown and Rich Square.

Many people in North Carolina use propane to heat their home and to power appliances such as stoves and dryers. Cooper offered the following advice to consumers who use propane.

“Shop around for a dealer who offers the best price and service. Since propane price fluctuate, make sure you get an accurate estimate of what your costs will be during cold winter months,” said Cooper. “Study the contract carefully before you sign. Once you’ve signed up, let my office know if you think you’re being charged fees that aren’t in the contract.”