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Md. regulators launch utility bill review

Maryland regulators say they will review the extent that customers are past due on bills to electric and gas utilities, fearing that sharply cold temperatures this winter will get more people into trouble.

The state Public Service Commission said it worries about rising arrearages and added that "a broader-than-usual range of residential and commercial customers may be at risk for termination."

"The Commission is aware of the unusually cold weather in December 2013 and January 2014, as well as the recent spike in wholesale gas and electricity prices, and is concerned about how these conditions may be reflected in customer bills, arrearages, and service terminations," the commission wrote in a notice launching the review.

The spike in energy prices means that some customers with variable-rate contracts for power through third-party suppliers could get a price shock on their January through March bills, the commissioners said. But even for customers with fixed rates, frigid weather pushes up costs by increasing energy use.

A hearing is planned for March 4.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. earlier warned customers to brace for higher bills, saying average energy use in January rose 10 percent per customer compared with last year. BGE said it would allow customers signing up for budget billing — spreading payments over 12 months to avoid spikes — to retroactively enroll, as long as they're no more than $500 behind.

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