As officials in Salem and Swampscott move their communities onto municipal electricity contracts as of Jan. 1, solicitors for energy supply competitors are taking advantage of the opportunity and coming out in droves to hawk their energy deals — at times illegitimately.
This has led to confusion for many residents faced with salespeople on their doorsteps or by phone, according to local officials. Leaders in both communities are urging their residents to be mindful of possible scammers and bad deals on energy contracts.
The official deal is that residents will automatically be enrolled in the municipal electricity aggregation program and experience energy-saving deals with ConEdison Solutions unless they choose to opt out.
Currently, National Grid both distributes and supplies electricity to ratepayers, but under Salem PowerChoice and Swampscott Community Power, ConEdison would supply the energy while National Grid maintained the infrastructure.
The solicitor problem is actually more common than most would think, according to Peter Kane, Swampscott’s town planner and energy efficiency manager.
“This happens in most communities when an aggregation plan is announced,” Kane said. “A lot of the other suppliers, since they didn’t get that contract, they’re trying to come in and market their plan ahead of the start of the actual community plan.”
Salem Police Lt. Conrad Prosniewski said the department has received six calls so far from residents bothered by people showing up at their door since the contracts were first announced in mid-November. But it’s likely the problem is more widespread, he added.
“These are people that have even bothered to report it to police,” Prosniewski said. “So you know there’s a slew out there.”
Scams are common this time of year, according to Prosniewski. A big one going around involves fraudulent calls from people reporting to be the Internal Revenue Service.
“We’re in a unique situation,” he said, “because there are two things going on in Salem.”
In addition to the switch to Salem PowerChoice, the other issue prone to scams relates to a massive construction project in northeast Salem: the Footprint Power Plant.
“They’re watching the power plant getting knocked down. There are no more stacks over there,” Prosniewski said. “These scam artists are in tune to what’s going on, and they’re jumping on this opportunity.”
Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll has heard about some of these reported scams.
“We’ve heard from residents who expressed concern that people were coming to their door, saying that the power plant is going to close and they won’t have power ‘if you don’t sign up for stuff,’ ” Driscoll said. “We’re not at doors. If you have someone trying to solicit you on this, be cautious.”
That isn’t to say all solicitors are bad, according to Kane. Considering the various options are key to being an informed buyer, he said.
But Swampscott is “not going door-to-door and not doing cold calls,” he said. “That’s marketing of a different program.”
And those programs may not be as sweet as they sound, pointed out Dominick Pangallo, Driscoll’s chief of staff.
“If somebody comes to your door, really look at the contract,” Pangallo said. “Sometimes, it’s a low rate for the first month or so — then it will go up really high.”
Driscoll stresses that residents don’t have to do anything to join the municipal power program, but opt out if they’re not interested.
Solicitors coming into Salem also need to register with the police department to go door-to-door, noted Prosniewski.
Despite the complaints the department has received, and the names of companies they’ve heard about from callers, nobody has approached police about soliciting in Salem, he said.
“Nobody has come and applied for any solicitation licenses,” he said, rattling off the name of several companies he’s heard about going through Salem. “Our view, right now, is they aren’t legitimate. They’re just coming in for some quick bucks.”
Salem residents are encouraged to contact police about anyone who appears suspicious. In Swampscott, residents should contact the planning department or call 844-483-5004.