There is one electrical plan guaranteed to save money regardless of what happens with the rate deferral fight dominating Maryland politics: conservation.
With that in mind, BGE is sending representatives to the five Carroll County senior centers to provide tips on saving energy and money.
In a recent visit to the Taneytown Senior Center, BGE energy educator Shelly Wortham held up inexpensive, energy-saving gadgets: foam to seal the cracks between windows and doors, outlet sealers, a jacket for the hot water heater. She recommended changing air conditioner filters and vacuuming under and behind the refrigerator frequently.
Every degree a homeowner raises the heat in winter or lowers the air conditioning in summer can raise energy bills rise by 3 percent to 4 percent, Wortham said. She proposed an alternative for cold weather.
"It's said that every layer of clothes you wear, including socks, you can feel 2 degrees warmer," Wortham said.
"You're talking about a group with a fixed income," said Susan Cronin, who coordinates the county's Senior Health Insurance Program. "When you think of what they're getting from Social Security to cover rent, food and medicines, something's got to give."
Though most of the seniors in Taneytown get their electricity from Allegheny Power, they still had questions for Wortham on how reduce their energy bills. Unlike BGE, Allegheny's rate caps won't be lifted until the end of 2008, said Allen Staggers, a spokesman for Allegheny Power.
"We're poor here, unlike the aristocrats in Westminster," Ruth Strzelczyk, 85, said jokingly. "We just don't want to change. I've had [Allegheny] for 30 years." James Hamer, 84, who stopped by the center to make some photocopies, said he conserves energy but stays comfortable.
"I do the best I can to save on everything," he said. "My air conditioning is set at a decent temperature. We're not hot, not cold."
One Frederick County resident wondered how BGE was going to use the revenue it receives once it ups the electricity rates.
"With this extra money, are they going to put in new grids?" Margaret Kinnard, of Thurmont, said to Wortham. "Isn't that what causes all the blackouts?"
Wortham didn't have the answer.
Kinnard was also skeptical about a deferred payment plan, which would charge energy customers a monthly fee to phase in the rate increases more slowly.
With soaring gas prices this year, residents have even been forced to cut back how many senior center events they attend.
"They're concerned about their income being able to meet the expenses of everything going up," Walz said. "They used to come to senior activities more. But now they're really picking and choosing."
The seniors at the Taneytown lunch discussion were mostly women. They were happy to limit their use of energy and hot water. Getting their husbands to change their behavior is a different story, some said.
For example, Wortham suggested only running the washing machine with full loads of laundry.
"Oh, tell my husband that, will you?" Strzelczyk said. "He'll take his clothes off - only three to four pieces - and take them downstairs to immediately wash, which upsets the machine."
A BGE representative also visited the Mount Airy Senior Center on Thursday.
Information sessions on BGE rate increases will be held Tuesday at the South Carroll Senior Center, the North Carroll Senior Center and the Westminster Senior Center. For information, contact Patty Whitson, Bureau of Aging, 410-386-3809.
ENERGY SAVING TIPS
Here are some of BGE's suggestions for saving energy:
Use compact fluorescent bulbs, which last 10 times longer and use up to 75 percent less energy than regular incandescent bulbs.
Turn off lights when not in use.
In summer, set your thermostat at 78 degrees or higher. Every degree above 72 degrees will save you 5 percent to 7 percent on cooling costs.
In winter, set your thermostat at 68 degrees or lower during the day and 65 degrees at night. Every degree below 73 degrees will save you 2 percent to 4 percent on heating costs.
Avoid using your fireplace during extremely cold weather. You lose more heat up the chimney than you gain from the fire.
Wash only full loads of clothes, rinsing with cold water. Avoid drying very small loads, but do not overload the dryer.
Caulk around windows and doors to stop air leaks, and check the condition of caulk every year.