As president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, it is my responsibility to advance educational and economic efforts that enhance this state’s business climate. Maintaining and growing a strong talent pipeline that can develop and sustain jobs is vital to this goal.
Also key to big picture success is increasing competition and diversity. It is crucial that we support varying industries, from government to grocery stores, construction to computer science, manufacturing to medical technology and more. Such competition and diversity leads to opportunities for employment growth, which is critical to providing career pathways for our younger citizens who help to sustain our communities.
I was dismayed to read a recent article in The Baltimore Sun that a report was prepared for the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel (OPC) decrying the benefits of Maryland’s restructured retail electricity market, which transformed the energy industry nearly 20 years ago from a monopoly to a vibrant marketplace for customer choice.
According to the article, this report appears to raise the question as to whether consumers are actually experiencing lower prices for their electric and gas services as a result of this deregulation.
The answer: They have; the competitive energy market is working.
There should be no confusion about whether electricity competition is benefiting Maryland consumers. In fact, the benefits are evident if one does the math. While electricity prices nationwide have increased, Maryland consumers’ electric bills have essentially remained static for more than a decade. Maryland residential customers are paying about the same today for electricity as they were 10 years ago.
The same federal data referred to in both the OPC report, as well as a forthcoming report from the Abell Foundation, show that the monthly bill for an average Maryland household went from $138.39 in 2008, the year the market opened up for residential customers, to $139.86 in 2017, an increase of $1.47 over the past decade.
When you account for inflation, Maryland residential electricity prices have actually decreased by 9.7 percent since 2008. Compare that to a 9.3 percent increase in states that remained a monopoly.
Furthermore, the generation mix is significantly more diverse and cleaner today than it was 10 years ago. During the same period, Maryland experienced tremendous growth in clean energy resources, with many wind and solar energy resources coming online to provide electricity to Marylanders and others throughout the region. This has given our state better quality and cleaner sources of energy, with little to no impact on price.
Unfortunately, the benefits of competitive markets are being unfairly associated with the action of a few disreputable electricity suppliers exploiting the market, particularly when it comes to low-income customers.
Without doubt, the energy industry needs to protect vulnerable consumers. Based on my experience, I know that responsible electric suppliers and utilities, such as BGE and others, strongly support efforts to protect low-income and vulnerable customers from predatory offers and proactively educate customers about how to protect themselves from unscrupulous business activities.
Reputable electricity suppliers have stringent sales policies and procedures that aim to prevent unfair behavior and meet or exceed state regulations. They also have supported tougher oversight and enforcement measures to address sales practices that result in customers paying more than they should.
There is a problem to be solved here: It’s rooting out the bad actors, not unraveling electricity markets.
Retail electric competition gives consumers options when choosing an electric supplier, as well as offering a wide range of products, such as energy efficiency, flexibility and the ability to lock in a rate over a set period of time, which can help with budget planning.
It has also kept costs lower here in Maryland than they are in other places.
That helps our state remain a great place to live and work — and keeps our best and brightest right here working to improve our environment, our economy and our society.
Christine Ross (firstname.lastname@example.org) is president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.