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Beware third-party utility suppliers | READER COMMENTARY

Baltimore Gas and Electric power lines include a black, plastic shield to avoid hurting osprey and other birds who might perch on the utility equipment. File.
Baltimore Gas and Electric power lines include a black, plastic shield to avoid hurting osprey and other birds who might perch on the utility equipment. File. (Courtesy of Wayne Eagleson)

Every day, Marylanders receive solicitations from third-party suppliers promising lower utility rates than those offered by regulated utilities (“Switching utility companies means many low-income Marylanders paying more,” Sept. 22). In fact, what many of these companies are advertising are low “teaser” rates that soon expire, often leaving consumers with bills that are higher than they were paying before the switch.

During the 2020 legislative session, AARP Maryland supported bills introduced by Sen. Mary Washington and Del. Brooke Lierman (and will support identical legislation in the 2021 legislative session) to ensure that Maryland taxpayers' energy assistance dollars are not wasted on more expensive third-party energy suppliers. As the two lawmakers observed in a recent op-ed, data conclusively show that third-party suppliers are profiting from millions of state energy assistance dollars rather than fully paying down customer utility bills.

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The 1999 Electric Choice Act was passed by the General Assembly with big energy claiming that deregulation would provide economic benefits for all customer classes. After 20 years, we now know that after a brief introductory period, most third-party energy supplier rates are significantly higher than original suppliers like BGE, PEPCO or Delmarva.

The promotion is intense. They call, they send mail, they set up kiosks in malls, Costco and even outside the Department of Social Services and go door-to-door. Third party suppliers rely on predatory sales tactics targeting low income, older and vulnerable consumers and the come-ons often sound like this: “We have a $100 rebate check waiting for you, press one to get the details.” In short, they are attempting to fleece consumers.

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AARP believes that policymakers should ensure consumers have access to reliable, safe, and high-quality utility electric and gas services at just and reasonable rates. Legislators will likely be hearing from ratepayers across Maryland, with AARP on their side, when these bills come up for consideration in the next General Assembly.

Hank Greenberg, Baltimore

The writer is state director of AARP Maryland.

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