Energy suppliers competing for your business

Is it worth switching for the incentives?

BALTIMORE, Md. - Chances are you've probably already gotten something in the mail or a knock on the door from someone telling you that you could save money, maybe even help the environment, if you switch your energy supplier.

A number of companies are also offering incentives such as airline points or miles, hotel stays, cash back, even football memorabilia for their business, but before you sign on the dotted line, look closely at the fine print.

“It's all the same. BGE is your distributor, and either BGE or a supplier will supply the electricity,” said Paula Carmody, people's counsel with the Maryland Office of People's Counsel.

Suppliers purchase energy on the open market then sell it to consumer. BGE is the electric and gas supplier to around 80 percent of Maryland residents. However, Marylanders have energy choice. Consumers can choose their energy suppliers and it's a fairly easy process to switch.

“Some people just like the idea of using a competitive supplier or going out and doing comparison shopping. Some people sometimes are a little mad at their local gas or electric company and decide to look around. There are certainly a number of people interested in renewable or clean energy, maybe wind energy,” Carmody said.

There are more than 50 suppliers Marylanders can choose from. The Office of the People's Counsel provides cost comparison sheets on their website to help consumers make informed decisions.

“Once a month, we update this so you can see the BGE price, and you can see the price that is being offered by a variety of other suppliers,” said Carmody.

For example, NRG Home is currently offering a Southwest Rapid Rewards three month offer. Customers pay $0.067 kWh while BGE customers pay around $0.084. NRG customers are also rewarded up to 15,000 Rapid Rewards bonus points.

“That price looks very good for three months, but it will change at the end of that time period and it will become what's called a variable rate,” Carmody said.

Variable rates can change every month and there’s no cap unless stated in the contract. 

A new law allows consumers to view rates 12 days before the start date of the contract billing month, but in most cases, the consumer needs to remember to call the company or look up the information online.

Consumers could save money with variable rates, but it could also backfire in a big fire. Carmody’s office received a number of calls from residents about costly energy bills following the polar vortex a few years ago.

“In some cases, these bills went up to $3,000 for that month of January,” Carmody said. “And it turned out these were contracts with suppliers and it also turned out these people were being charged a variable rate and didn’t realize it.”

Some suppliers offer fixed rate two-year periods with auto-renewal. Consumers should also be aware of any cancellation fees. Those range from $100 to $200 for certain suppliers.

Also, never show a solicitor your energy bill. There’s been numerous instances of “slamming” where a person takes your account number and enrolls your household into a plan by forging a signature. Consumers don’t realize they’ve been enrolled until they see their next billing statement.

If this happens to you, you can file a complaint with the Maryland Public Service Commission. All suppliers must also be licensed by the commission.

UPDATE: Starion Energy, an energy supplier, is the subject of a class-action settlement in Connecticut. The proposed settlement applies to certain Maryland customers who had contracts with Starion Energy during the period 2010 through May 24, 2017.  All of the information on the class action settlement and filing of claims can be found here.

If you have a Matter for Mallory, she wants to hear from you. You can email her at Mallory@wmar.com.

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