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Maryland Commission Adopts New Consumer Protection Rules

On February 10, 2016, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved revised consumer protection regulations governing the retail sale of electricity and natural gas. The revised rules include several substantive changes relating to how retail suppliers operate in Maryland. The changes involve additional up-front pricing disclosures to customers, and additional notices throughout each customers’ contract term. One of the more significant operational changes is a new requirement that utilities process a customer’s request to switch electricity providers within three business days. The revised Rules also include entire new sections addressing retail suppliers’ relationships with their marketing and sales agents.

We have previously blogged here, here, and here at various stages of this two-year rulemaking. In sum, the Commission initiated this rulemaking in response to the extreme cold weather conditions in the beginning of 2014 that caused wholesale energy prices to spike dramatically. Generally speaking, customers who had signed up for monthly variable retail priced contracts, which are tied to wholesale prices, saw their retail rates increase considerably. The primary policy goals of the revised rules is to assist customers in better understanding the energy products they are considering, to require certain notices to customers during their contract term, and to afford customers the opportunity and flexibility to change their energy provider quickly to take advantage of pending offers.

The next step for implementation will be publication of the final rules in the Maryland Register. While the timing of the publication is uncertain, it is anticipated that the rules will become effective at some point in March 2016. Retail suppliers will need to review their contract language, third-party verification scripts, training materials, and other areas to ensure they are complying with the new rules. Retail suppliers that are unable to comply with any of the new requirements will need to seek a waiver from the Commission.

If you have any questions about Maryland’s new retail energy supplier rules or the process for seeking a waiver, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy lawyers for more information.