Maryland must crack down on energy suppliers that entice people into bad, pricey contracts
By The Baltimore Sun Editorial Board December 3, 2019
The often aggressive pitches come in the mail or through sales people who canvas neighborhoods, knocking on doors looking for new customers. Sometimes they call on the phone with their sly spiel. Switch your utility company, they say, and see hefty savings on your gas and electric bill.
Except Maryland’s top utility customer advocate says too often these promises are empty. Instead of savings, customers are getting enticed into contracts that end up costing them more. Hefty fees, sometimes as much as $150, await anyone who tries to get out of these so-called cost saving deals.
The Office of People’s Counsel filed a series of complaints with the Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates energy companies, on behalf of citizens who have gotten caught up in such scrupulous practices. It’s a good thing because the commission seems to have fallen down on its enforcement duties.
The PSC must do a better job of investigating these companies accused of bad business practices and ban more of those who can’t seem to follow the rules and appear determined to prey on unsuspecting customers, many of them low-income and already struggling to pay their bills. A full investigation should be conducted on whether these companies are targeting the most vulnerable.
Sky high utility bills from third party companies are costing Marylanders. Reports last year by the Office of People’s Counsel and the Abell Foundation found that deceptive marketing tactics had landed people with companies that charge them 50 to 75% more than they were paying prior. From 2014 to 2017, Maryland households paid tens of millions of dollars more per year in aggregate to third-party electricity suppliers — or about $255 million more in all than if they had stayed with their previous company.
Based on the complaints by the people’s counsel, The Public Service Commission delegated concerns about three companies to administrative law judges, who plan to hold hearings next year.