Maine law to strengthen consumer protections on advance oil purchases

Mid-coast area credit unions work with lawmakers on deal to help costumers get oil

By Ramona du Houx - February 8th, 2011 · 

Brunswick-area lawmakers Tuesday proposed legislation to strengthen safeguards on prepaid heating contracts to protect consumers from losing oil allotments if a company closes. The bill was inspired by the recent closure of Thibeault Energy, and the resulting loss to prepaid customers.

“It is unacceptable for customers to be left in the lurch after making a careful savings plan to purchase oil for the winter,” said Rep. Alex Cornell Du Houx, who is sponsoring the bill with full support of area lawmakers. “We have worked to help customers in immediate need, and our legislation will provide a long-term safeguard to protect consumers and prevent oil dealers from failing to hold up their end of the deal in the future.”

The proposed legislation would strengthen existing safeguards by requiring oil dealers to acquire a surety bond for the full amount of the prepaid funds. Current law requires oil dealers to implement one of three safeguards: reserve 75 percent of the prepaid oil, bond 50 percent of the purchase, or have a letter of credit for the purchase.

The bill, which is being submitted after the deadline for new legislation in 2011, must first gain support from the ten member Legislative Council made up of House and Senate Republican and Democratic leadership, to be considered by the full legislature.

The legislation is being introduced as a long term solution, while lawmakers have also worked separately with the private sector to help customers who need to purchase oil immediately. Five Mid-Coast area credit unions have offered to provide no fee, interest free-loans of up to $2,000 for Thibeault Energy customers to purchase oil. The credit unions include; The Atlantic Regional Federal Credit Union, Down East Credit Union, Five County Credit Union, Lisbon Community Federal Credit Union, and Midcoast Federal Credit Union.

“Right now we have to make sure that everyone affected gets the heat they need,” said State Senator Seth Goodall. “The credit unions should be commended for offering to help Thibeault’s former customers with an interest free loan.”

Brunswick area lawmakers including Rep. Cornell Du Houx, Sen. Goodall, Sen. Stan Gerzofsky, Rep. Peter Kent of Woolwich, Rep. Mike Clarke of Bath, Rep. Kerri Prescott of Topsham, Rep. Charlie Priest of Brunswick, Rep. David Webster of Freeport and Rep. Kimberly Olsen of Phippsburg have been working to provide long-term and short-term resolution for area consumers.

“Since the news broke three weeks ago we have been doing everything we can to make sure nobody freezes on our watch,” said Sen. Gerzofsky. “I commend the bipartisan delegation, the governor, the credit unions, and area oil dealers for coming together to help the community.”