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Howard residents testify against BGE rate increase

Howard County residents Wednesday questioned why Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. should be allowed to increase rates on electric and gas customers after power reliability in the county has been a source of frustration.

"It seems illogical to grant a rate increase to BGE at this time, which is basically a handout from rate payers that have been poorly served," Ellicott City resident Maryann Maher said.

Maher was one of 14 people to testify against BGE's proposed rate increases in front of the Maryland Public Service Commission. No one testified in favor of the increase during the hour-long public hearing.

BGE is looking to increase its distribution charges for both residential electric and gas customers in order to pay for infrastructure improvements. The rate increases would be about $6.62 a month for a residential electric customer and $4.26 a month for residential gas customers.

The rate increases are expected to raise about $175 million in the first year.

This is the second time in 20 years that BGE has asked for a rate increase in distribution charges, according to Rob Gould, a BGE spokesman.

"At the end of the day we're simply continuing to invest in the system," he said, adding that the increases will go to upgrading aging equipment.

Wednesday marked the fifth and final public hearing held by the PSC within the BGE service area to collect public comment on the case.

Michael Boris, a resident of Clarksville Ridge, said unreliability with BGE has led almost everyone in his neighborhood to purchase a generator.

"I don't know what BGE is thinking when it comes to a rate increase with the terrible service they provide in their service area," Boris said.

The PSC has received thousands of pages of testimony on the rate increase and will make a ruling no later than Feb. 23, according to Kevin Hughes, chairman of the PSC.

Jack Suess, president of the Font Hill Community Association, said if the increase is approved the community needs to know specifically how the additional funding through rate increases is being used to deliver better service.

He suggested that BGE is trying to take advantage of recent power outages caused by severe weather, such as the Derecho in June, as a cover to ask for increased charges.

"While improving reliability is key, I have no confidence that this rate increase is going to deliver improved reliability," he said.

Frustration with BGE in Howard County is nothing new.

The County Council in October asked the PSC to investigate electric power reliability in certain areas of the county after complaints from residents of outages unrelated to weather events. Residents frustrated with multiple power outages formed Reliability4HOCO to file a complaint with the PSC in April.

In November the PSC ruled that the two cases would be consolidated, allowing the county to represent residents in the case against BGE.

Columbia resident Paul Verchinski, on behalf of the Howard County Citizens Association, testified against the rate increase saying that BGE has failed to set aside enough money to replace aging equipment.

"We [Howard County Citizens Association] are against this increase in gas and electric charges since BGE has failed to effectively utilize money already paid by ratepayers in the distribution charges to maintain reliability and safety in Howard County," he said.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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