Robert B. Cooper, energy director for building products manufacturer U.S. Gypsum Co., said in written testimony that the proposed increase "could lead to a reduction in labor or plant shutdown" if costs at its 135-employee Baltimore operation no longer compare well to other company facilities in the United States and Canada.

Cooper testified on behalf of the Maryland Energy Group, a collection of about 15 industrial employers, hospitals and universities. Energy costs account for about 20 percent of U.S. Gypsum's budget, typical in that group.

Members are pressing for lower overall rate increases as well as a shift in the way the increases are allocated between different categories of customers, said Todd R. Chason, an attorney who represents the Maryland Energy Group.

Case, who said distribution-rate increases aren't unique to Maryland, suggested other ways of saving money besides moving. Customers can offset the amount BGE is requesting by making their properties more energy efficient or switching to a retail energy supplier, he said.

Residential customers, for instance, can typically save at least $10 a month by signing up with a retail provider and paying BGE just for distribution, Case said. Commercial customers using more energy can save more, BGE said.

The rate increase, if approved, would be only the second for BGE's electric customers in the past two decades — in part due to settlement agreements that prevented the utility from seeking increases for some of those years. Carmody, the Maryland people's counsel, doesn't anticipate another long stretch with no requests for more revenue.

In the past three years, almost all of the state's sizable utilities have asked state regulators at least once for higher rates. Pepco filed three times — most recently on Friday.

"We expect these companies to be coming in every year," Carmody said.

Rates going up?

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. is asking the Maryland Public Service Commission to approve distribution rate increases next year. Here's how typical customers in various categories would be affected under the proposal:

Residential electric: up $6.62 a month (5 percent)

Residential gas: up $4.26 a month (7.5 percent)

Small commercial electric: up $10.74 a month (4.7 percent)

Small commercial gas: up $60.23 a month (3.9 percent)

Large commercial electric: up $224.90 a month (3.2 percent)

Large commercial gas: up $145.82 a month (4 percent)

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