BRUNSWICK — Thibeault Energy has closed, leaving some customers literally out in the cold.
A recording on the company’s answering machine on Wednesday directed customers to other oil companies and said the closing was beyond the company’s control.
Company officials did not respond to requests for comment, and neither did its lawyer, Jennie Clegg. The company has not filed for bankruptcy protection, according to U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Portland.
The closing leaves Thibeault’s customers – many of whom have pre-paid in order to guarantee oil delivery at a fixed price all winter – with empty boilers. Some are out thousands of dollars and are wondering if they will get their money back.
According to Assistant Attorney General Linda Conti, about 200 former Thibeault customers called to complain between Monday and Wednesday afternoon. Conti said that while Thibeault certainly broke a contractual obligation with its pre-paid customers, there isn’t necessarily a legal obligation for the company to refund account balances.
She said the customers can sue the company to enforce their contracts. As of Thursday morning, no lawsuits had been filed at District Court in West Bath.
Bill Moore, owner of Moore Painting, said he used to have a contract with Thibeault for his home and commercial buildings. He said that a month ago the Thibeault family told him they were trying to sell the business.
Since then, Moore noticed the company, which has been in Brunswick since 1927, was having a hard time filling his oil tanks.
“They’ve been scrambling, it seems,” he said. “They haven’t been filling the tanks, but have been putting enough in there to keep them running.”
Moore said that about a week ago, a Thibeault family member told him that “it wasn’t looking good.” Moore said he has since switched to Downeast Energy, but holds no grudges against Thibeault.
“I feel so bad for the family in regards to their position, it’s too bad they had to go out of business,” he said.
Moore is one of many former Thibeault customers who are now flocking to other local companies to meet their oil needs.
Bob Moore, president of Dead River Co., said his business has gained “well over 200” new customers in Brunswick in the past few days.
Chris Staples, vice president and co-owner of Brunswick-based Dallas Oil, said the company receives 15 to 20 calls a day from former Thibeault customers looking to buy oil.
“Almost all of them have been empty and they’re quite excited to see an oil truck,” he said, adding that the company has been able so far to meet the demand.
Staples said he didn’t know why Thibeault suddenly closed, but speculated that it had to do with high overhead costs at the company’s oil terminal in the Brunswick Industrial Park. Thibeault purchased the lot in 2003, and hired Brunswick-based Resource Systems Engineering to construct a building on the site.
As of February 2008, Thibeault still owed that company more than $35,000 for consultation, materials and labor. Resource Systems Engineering took Thibeault to court in 2007, resulting in a lien being placed on the Industrial Park property.
Resource Systems Engineering’s lawyer, Robert Stolt, said he wasn’t sure if the lien played a role in Thibeault’s sudden shutdown.
“I can’t say (the closing) has anything to do with (Thibeault’s) current circumstances, but he’s been in business several years before the lien and several years after,” he said.
Emily Guerin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or email@example.com