By Denise Koch

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Have you looked at your energy bill lately?

A new report, funded by the Abell Foundation, concludes that ever since state lawmakers opened up the utility market to third-party providers two decades ago, Marylanders have been paying- not less- for their gas and electric.

Low-income households have been hit the hardest.

“I don’t know about electric bills. I just know about paying them,” said Willie Brim.

And Willie Brim has always paid his bill, usually $90 to $100 a month for his one-bedroom apartment. That is, until switched to a third-party energy provider.

Then, it jumped to $2,300.

Willie got help at the non-profit, “Cares,”. They say over 50 percent of the people who come to them for assistance have signed with a third-party provider, all of whom are paying more than if they’d stayed with BGE.

“Often they didn’t even know they signed up,” said Rachael Neill, director of GEDCO Cares.  “There’s a lot of fishy business going on in this,”

For decades, BGE had a monopoly on the utility industry. Then, lawmakers decided to open the market to create competition, figuring it would drive down prices.

A spokesman for the industry says, it did.

“The Maryland customers are paying an inflation-adjusted, 10 percent below what they were paying a decade ago,” said Matt White.

But, Laurel Peltier said her research showed Marylanders who switched are losing.

“We know the majority of them are losing to the tune $255 million since 2014,” Peltier said.

[WJZ Reporter Denise Koch:] “In Maryland?”

“Just in Maryland,” Peltier said. “People are paying a lot more. They’re not saving. They’re told they’re saving and they end up paying higher bills and some people in the low-income segment have bills that are so high they either get turn off notices or they go to the state for assistance,”

Which brings it back to “Cares,”. Jason is a volunteer who helps people read their bills to see if they are actually saving.

“On average our clients are paying over 50 percent more for electricity and on average our clients are paying 75 percent more for their natural gas,” said Jason Jesner, a volunteer with Cares.

Both White and Peltier agree, with over 60 companies competing, more needs to be done to stop deceptive marketing and to educate consumers.

“I would encourage people to look at their bills,” Peltier said.

The only way to know for sure is to see it for yourself. Figure out your electric bill below.

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