Maryland regulators say they will start publicly sharing some information about complaints filed against energy companies who consumers accuse of unfair or illegal sales tactics.

The state’s Public Service Commission said it will post the number and nature of complaints to help consumers be savvier when shopping for gas or electricity. The full text of complaints is available upon request, but the commission redacts any personal information before sharing them publicly.


The shift toward greater transparency comes as consumer advocates accuse multiple energy companies of using misleading sales tactics and in some cases signing people up for gas or electricity contracts without their knowledge or consent.

Four companies — Smart Energy, Direct Energy, Maryland Gas and Electric and Atlantic Energy — are the subject of formal complaints filed by the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel that the commission is reviewing, and the panel took punitive action against a fifth, Smart One Energy, earlier this year.

The companies buy gas and electricity on wholesale markets and sell the commodities directly to consumers, often offering gift cards and other perks for choosing to buy from them instead of utilities such as Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. The utilities deliver the energy and maintain the grid regardless of where consumers purchase their power from.

But the complaints allege some companies take advantage of consumers’ limited understanding of Maryland’s energy market, which was deregulated in 1999. In many cases, salespeople for the companies misrepresent themselves as employees of BGE or other utilities, and sometimes commit consumers to energy contracts without their consent, the complaints allege.

Representatives for those companies largely denied the allegations, suggesting that the people’s counsel is misconstruing state laws and rules.

Tracy McCormick, executive director of the Retail Energy Supply Association, said the companies "strongly believe in protecting all consumers and maintaining a sustainable competitive market.

“To that end, we support transparency and ensuring consumers have the accurate information they need to make informed decisions when it comes to their energy provider,” she said in a statement.

Jason Stanek, the commission’s chairman, said Maryland is following other states, such as New York, in providing more information to consumers about complaints against the companies.

“Maryland’s competitive energy marketplace empowers customers to choose a supplier that best meets their energy needs, but we are increasingly concerned about those suppliers who don’t play by the rules,” he said in a statement. “While these numbers don’t tell the whole story of customers’ experiences with a supplier, it’s one more piece of information that consumers can consider when shopping for an energy supplier.”

Paula Carmody, the people’s counsel, said the information would be helpful to consumers, but added that providing it wouldn’t necessarily help consumers in their most vulnerable moment, when a salesperson knocks on their door or calls their phone.

Commission data shows consumers made nearly 100 complaints against energy companies in the most recent quarter for which data is available, from July through September. More than half of them involved people being signed up for energy contracts without their consent. A report to state lawmakers shows the commission has received more than 5,600 complaints against energy companies over the past five years, including more than 700 in the fiscal year that ended in June.