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People's Counsel: no change needed in way utility rate calculated

David Brown, a BGE lineman, works to ground power lines on Charlesmeade Avenue.
David Brown, a BGE lineman, works to ground power lines on Charlesmeade Avenue. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Gas and electric companies across Maryland have retained an army of lobbyists to push for legislation that will change the way utility rates – the prices that households pay for distributing gas and electricity to their homes – are set (“Senate must slow down the charge to upend the way Md. regulates utility rates,” Mar. 18).

This clearly is a benefit to the utilities and their shareholders. But what does the legislation do for households and businesses that rely on these important services? House Bill 653 has passed the House and is in the Senate. If passed by the Senate, the bill will impact the people who rely on electric and gas services and pay the bills. Unfortunately, this legislation has flown under the radar until recently.

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The Office of People’s Counsel, which represents residential customers of these utilities, has opposed the bill, together with AARP and AOBA, which represents business interests. It is also significant that the Public Service Commission, the regulator of these companies, has come out in strong opposition.

This legislation is not needed to ensure clean, safe and reliable service from these regulated companies. It also is not needed to ensure that Maryland continues its progress with its clean energy goals and adoption of new technologies. The commission already has authority to make appropriate changes to its regulatory process, if needed to protect customer and utility interests. The commission has taken steps, in open proceedings, to enhance reliability and the interconnection of renewable resources, strengthen energy efficiency and demand response programs, and examine time of use rates, energy storage and electric vehicle impacts on distribution systems. Maryland is also already ranked as one of the leading states in terms of grid modernization.

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Regulation of utilities is not a static process. The process must recognize changes in customer needs, infrastructure requirements and emerging technologies to improve service. However, the legislation skews the regulatory process and rate setting outcomes to favor utilities in a way that does not benefit the customers they have an obligation to serve and diminishes transparency in the process.The legislation is not necessary and is counter-productive for customers. I hope the legislature will recognize that the current commission process is flexible enough to ensure that safe, reliable and affordable energy services can be delivered, without favoring utility interests.

Paula M. Carmody

The writer is the People’s Counsel of Maryland.

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