On Friday the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) fined third-party energy supplier Smart One Energy, LLC $561,000 for violations such as "slamming," or enrolling customers without consent, according to a statement from the regulators.
The civil penalty is the largest ever levied by the commission, and comes with a suspension of the company's license to operate as a natural gas supplier in Maryland.
In a statement, Maryland PSC Chairman Jason Stanek said the state was committed to a competitive energy marketplace, but the commission would "remain vigilant" and take further action to protect customers if necessary.
Smart One Energy has 10,000 customers in Maryland, which will be returned to default utility natural gas service as a result of the PSC decision, according to the press release. The commission says the fine and suspension stem from filings earlier this spring by the PSC's Technical Staff alleging violations by the company following customer complaints.
According to the release, the commission "found that Smart One Energy violated specific provisions of Maryland law by enrolling customers without a signed contract, failing to provide a contract summary to customers, and engaging in deceptive solicitations."
The company declined to provide a comment, but has admitted to the alleged violations, according to the PSC. The company said in commission filings that its actions "did not warrant a substantial fine, nor license revocation or suspension," though it did not deny breaking the law, the Baltimore Sun reported.
The commission told Utility Dive that this case was one of just a handful of similar "slamming" cases over the past few years. In 2014, the PSC fined another natural gas supplier, Starion Energy, $350,000 for similar violations, which at the time was its most severe penalty ever, according to the Baltimore Sun.
However, the commission said complaints against other third-party providers have been filed and are being investigated.
"There are several other supplier complaint cases that have been delegated to the Public Utility Law Judge Division," Tori Leonard, spokesperson for the PSC, told Utility Dive.
"Maryland is committed to a thriving, competitive energy marketplace because customers stand to benefit from potentially lower rates, renewable and innovative energy products and promotional incentives," Stanek said in a statement. "However, we are very concerned about the practices of a few retail suppliers, whose actions can harm customers and retail competition in Maryland. The Commission's oversight will remain vigilant and it will take action if our rules to protect customers are not followed."