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Maryland PSC Approves New Regulations to Protect Retail Consumers

February 17, 2016 By Cheryl Kaften

The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously on February 10 (Administrative Docket RM54) to issue as final the retail market consumer protection regulations for competitive electric and gas supply that originally were published as a “Notice of Proposed Action” in the December 11, 2015, edition of the Maryland Register.

The same rules will be republished – most likely on March 4 –PSC Communications Director Tori Leonard told Retail Energy Buyer – and will become effective ten days following the print date.

According to the commission, the new regulations are intended “to increase consumer protections for residential and nonresidential customers of retail electricity [and gas] suppliers.” This goal will be accomplished by:

  • Clarifying who may legally exercise authority over an energy supply contract,
  • Strengthening the definition of consent,
  • Introducing the use of a contract summary,
  • Increasing the ease and frequency with which customers of retail electricity suppliers may switch from an incumbent retail supplier to another supplier or to standard offer service,
  • Introducing a customer-initiated drop performed by the electric company under certain circumstances,
  • Instituting provisions requiring notice to customers of a change in rate under certain circumstances, and
  • Establishing standards applicable to agents of retail electricity suppliers – including agent training, agent identification, door-to-door sales, and notifications regarding door-to-door activities.

Under the new rules, a utility will be able to implement a switch – within three days – if the retail supplier is unresponsive to a customer complaint. If a customer is switched to a supplier without notice or permission, the PSC’s Office of External Relations can require a refund that would hold the consumer harmless (compared to the rates they would have paid without the substitution of provider). In addition, the regulations clarify the extent of refunds that may be ordered by the Commission’s Office of External Relations upon proof of unauthorized enrollment.

In particular, the PSC proposed to improve the switching process because customers who contracted for variable rates from some retailers saw huge price spikes during the 2014 Polar Vortex, when increases in natural gas and wholesale power prices were passed on to the public.

The adoption of the proposed revisions to Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) 20.32, 20.53 currently is proceeding smoothly; however, there may be one fly in the ointment: At the hearing at which the rules were adopted, two area utilities – Baltimore Gas & Electric and Pepco – revealed that they would seek extensions to comply with the new rules.

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