Companies promise Maryland residents free electricity, but lock them into expensive contracts, advocate says
By Scott Dance December 3, 2019
Maryland’s top utility customer advocate is accusing energy companies of routinely misleading customers to sell them expensive natural gas and electricity service. And it is urging regulators to prosecute more bad actors after recently taking the unprecedented step of banishing one from the state.
The Office of People’s Counsel says energy salespeople often pretend they work for regulated utilities such as Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and entice customers with offers of free electricity, only to lock them into contracts with surging prices and massive cancellation fees. In a series of new complaints to the Maryland Public Service Commission, the customer advocacy office alleges that the solicitors actually work for private companies competing with BGE and each other in the state’s deregulated energy market.
In some cases, the office says residents have even suffered identity theft, with companies taking their utility account numbers and forging signatures.
The allegations paint a troubling picture of an energy market Maryland lawmakers deregulated two decades ago, with the idea that loosening the reins and promoting competition would drive down prices. Instead, the complaints suggest that because many residents understand little about the industry and their rights as consumers, they’re often being charged gas and electric rates significantly higher than those BGE and other utilities levy.
“It’s just simply wrong,” said Paula Carmody, the people’s counsel. “The transparency is not there.”