Md. Public Service Commission Suspends Energy Supplier for ‘Deceptive’ Practices

Md. Public Service Commission Suspends Energy Supplier for ‘Deceptive’ Practices

Punishment includes largest fine in PSC history

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Smart One Energy was suspended and fined $561,000, by the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Via Pixabay

The Maryland Public Service Commission has fined and suspended third-party energy supplier Smart One Energy LLC over several state law violations primarily affecting customers in Washington Gas’s service territory.

The commission announced Friday that all of Smart One Energy’s customers must be returned to the default utility service with their respective natural gas utilities. The punishment includes a fine of $561,000, the largest ever for the PSC against a retail supplier.

Smart One Energy first came under fire after three customers submitted complaints with the commission’s Consumer Affairs division. The complaints prompted the commission’s technical staff to file allegations in May that the retailer “engaged in unfair and deceptive marketing practices,” according to a PSC news release.

The commission found that Smart One Energy enrolled customers without a signed contract, failed to provide contract summaries and engaged in “deceptive solicitations,” according to the release. These practices are required by state law and commission regulations.

“We are very concerned about the practices of a few retail suppliers, whose actions can harm customers and retail competition in Maryland,” PSC Chairman Jason Stanek said in a statement. “The Commission’s oversight will remain vigilant and it will take action if our rules to protect customers are not followed.”

At the commission’s administrative meeting on July 17, Smart One Energy admitted to the violations, adding that it hadn’t received written consent from any of its Maryland customers.

Smart One Energy also submitted a written response to the allegations, stating that the company “acknowledges that it did not obtain ‘wet signatures’ in accordance with the Competitive Gas Supply Regulations,” but the admitted violations are not serious and do not warrant a penalty.

The company is based in New York and has served customers in Maryland since 2011.

Smart One Energy was serving roughly 10,000 customers in Maryland, a PSC spokeswoman said. Those customers now can either receive natural gas from their local regulated utility or choose another licensed supplier in Maryland.

Of those customers, 9,700 are in the service area of WGL Holdings Inc. Their service would default to Washington Gas if they did not switch to a different supplier.

Washington Gas is the natural gas utility of WGL Holdings Inc. and serves more than 1.1 million customers in the Washington region.

Washington Gas released a customer advisory on its website explaining the recent ruling and steps to take for customers in the area. Smart One Energy is required to notify its customers of the upcoming change by Aug. 8. Changes will be reflected in the next billing cycle after that date.

Charlie Wright can be reached at charlie.wright@bethesdamagazine.com

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