BALTIMORE — The Maryland Public Service Commission is cracking down on third-party energy suppliers misleading Marylanders.
The Commission announced the establishment of the Compliance and Enforcement Unit within its Consumer Affairs Division, which will be dedicated to more proactive oversight of utilities and third-party energy suppliers.
In Maryland, consumers have the power to choose who supplies their electricity or gas. BGE delivers energy to homes, however, they're not the sole supplier. Energy choice is supposed to drive competition and help customers get better rates, but Fran Stern said unscrupulous suppliers have cost her 86-year-old mother hundreds of dollars.
"I called her on my way home from work, 'Hi mom, how are you?' I hear her in the background say, 'Okay, see you later, thanks so much.' And I say hmm, who are you talking to? And she said, 'Oh, this nice gentleman from BGE,'" said Stern. "He let himself into my mom's place, helped himself to her bills and personal information on the table, wrote these things all over the BGE bill and then he left."
Stern called BGE. She was told that none of their employees were in the area, but it may have been a third-party supplier. Stern received confirmation when her mom's bill came in the mail.
"For the winter months, [my mom's budget billing plan] should be $43.43, and this month it's almost $238," she said.
Stern's mom's service had been switched, and she's since spent hours trying to get it back to BGE. This is the second time in a year that Stern's mother's service was transferred to a third-party energy supplier.
"It happened last April and it didn't get fixed until midsummer, and then it happened again in October and I'm still in the midst of dealing with it," Stern said.
"This is, unfortunately, a scenario we see play out time and time again," said Jason Stanek, Chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission.
Before signing a contract, WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii breaks down what you need to know about third-party energy suppliers:
Stanek added that the new unit will work to resolve complaints faster and more aggressively pursue third-party suppliers breaking the rules.
"We received over 700 complaints last year, and we were able to resolve most of them to the customer satisfaction," said Stanek.
And it's important customers not buy into the sales pitch, and to fully review the contract terms.
"Oftentimes, you'll see the teaser rates for a limited time, we call those variable rates for let's say three-month introductory pricing," Stanek said.
Then prices go up and there may be a fee to cancel.
The Commission has also stepped up enforcement on 'slamming,' or when a supplier switches someone's service without their permission.
Recently, the Commission shut down SmartOne Energy, a natural gas supplier, for slamming customers. In addition to the Commission revoking the company's license to do business in Maryland, they levied a record $561,000 civil penalty.
Four other companies are currently in litigation.
- Case No. 9613, SmartEnergy Holdings d/b/a SmartEnergy
- Case No. 9614, Direct Energy Services, LLC
- Case No. 9615, U.S. Gas & Electric d/b/a Maryland Gas & Electric and Energy Services Providers, Inc. d/b/a Maryland Gas & Electric
- Case No. 9624, Atlantic Energy MD, LLC
"We're going to be very proactive in auditing these companies," said Stanek.
According to Stanek, complaints are typically resolved within 60 days. To file a complaint with the Commission, click here.
There are legitimate third-party energy suppliers offering different and unique products, such as 100 percent renewable energy, but you'll most likely pay a premium.
The Commission has price compare information on their website. If you're interested in using a third-party supplier, click here to view the rate calculator.
Also, be careful not to rush into a decision. Read the contract first. And don't give anyone your BGE bill. This has your Choice ID number, which is what companies would need to switch over your service. And if you cancel your service with a third-party energy supplier, make sure to call BGE a few days later to confirm they received notice of your cancellation.