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Maryland’s New Consumer Protection Rules Hearing

The Maryland Public Service Commission has set a June 16-17 hearing date to consider the publication of new consumer protection rules for electricity and natural gas retail suppliers. The new rules would impact several aspects of a supplier’s marketing and enrollment processes. In January 2015, the Commission Staff, the Office of People’s Counsel, and the Retail Energy Supply Association submitted extensive redlines of the proposed rules. The Commission held a hearing in February that was more of an educational hearing, and then new proposed rules were communicated to stakeholders last month.

One of the biggest issues involves the impact of the new rules on a supplier’s ability to offer contracts where the price of the electricity or natural gas can change every month (“variable” contracts), and also contracts that automatically renew at the end of the initial term. The proposed rules would require advance notice of any price change and also customer approval, even if the customer had already consented to these terms when he or she initially enrolled. According to suppliers, the new rules would increase customer acquisition and retention costs and would discourage suppliers from doing business in Maryland. Consumer advocates take the position that these rules are necessary to protect customers from price increases about which they might be unaware.

Another issue is the ability of a customer to quickly switch to another supplier or to his or her utility service. The new proposed rules would reduce that amount of time from 12 days before your next meter read to three business days from the date your switch request is submitted to the utility. The Commission, before setting the June 16-17 hearing date, indicated in a letter order that it wanted to see this “accelerated switching” go into effect.

For more information on Maryland energy consumer protection law or retail electrical markets, please contact the electrical power regulatory lawyers at GreeneHurlocker.