In 2021, the Maryland General Assembly enacted Chapter 637 of the Laws of Maryland (2021), amending Public Utilities Article, Annotated Code of Maryland, § 4-308 (“4-308”). This important consumer protection statute is intended to protect customers with limited incomes from paying more for their essential energy service than had the customers remained on the utilities’ default service, thus extending the reach of limited energy assistance funds administered by the Office of Home Energy Programs (“OHEP”). Paying more for energy has been a recurring problem in the competitive energy supply market.
Overall, the proposed rules go far in implementing Chapter 637, but additional clarifications and process for the transition are needed. Detailed strong regulations are necessary to protect residential customers with limited incomes from overpaying for essential electric and natural gas service. The majority of residential consumers who have contracted with retail suppliers often pay more than they would have for standard offer service. In particular, lowincome retail supply customers have made frequent complaints against their suppliers for unfair practices such as exorbitant energy rates, deceptive marketing practices, involuntary renewal or service changes, and unsolicited visits or phone calls. Low-income consumers are often targeted by more expensive retail supply offers, to the detriment of both individual households with limited funds for basic necessities and OHEP’s energy assistance program.
The Commission is charged with creating an administrative process for approving supplier offers for energy assistance customers by January 1, 2023. As of July 1, 2023, only suppliers that comply with the statute may enroll energy assistance customers. The Commission has initiated this rulemaking to implement the statutory objectives of the statute. Due to the well documented abusive unfair and deceptive practices in the competitive supply market, the rules to implement the statute need to be as protective as possible to prevent harms to low-income consumers. In its September 2, 2022 Order, Notice Initiating Rulemaking and Directing Implementation Measures for New Low Income Gas and Electric Residential Supply Protections, the Commission invited participants to offer comments on draft regulations.
The National Consumer Law Center respectfully urges the Commission to approve the proposed regulations with the following clarifications and modifications.