A Message from the Maryland People’s Counsel
Welcome to the Official website of the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel. Maryland OPC is an independent State agency. Our mission is to represent the interests of residential consumers of electricity, natural gas, telecommunications, private water and certain transportation services in Maryland. As advocates of residential utility customer interests, we do this in a variety of ways. OPC is a party in Public Service Commission and federal agency proceedings, provides testimony at legislative bill hearings on a variety of bills affecting utility consumers, and provides information and assistance to customers and the public.
Whether it is a merger case, a rate case, proposed regulations or legislative bills, we are there to identify issues that affect the bottom line for households across the state – the quality and reliability of these essential services, the prices we pay for them, and the impacts of new and emerging technologies and services.
Here are just a few of our major activities over the past year:
2016 Legislative Session: OPC testified against several bills that would have resulted in unnecessary charges on customer utility bills. These bills included a bill to expand the current gas infrastructure surcharge (STRIDE) law to increase the cap to $4 per month, and allow a parallel “electric STRIDE;” a natural gas system expansion bill, and a bill to allow gas companies to recover environmental remediation costs for property that is not owned by the utility or used to provide service to utility customers. These bills failed.
BGE $200 million rate case: BGE seeks a substantial rate increase to recover the costs of its smart meter rollout. BGE is required to prove that the AMI installation program is cost-effective. OPC retained several witnesses to evaluate and testify on BGE’s application, and concluded that BGE has not shown the program is cost-effective and should be denied recovery of most of its costs. We filed a legal brief on April 29 in Case 9406. The PSC decision is due June 4.
Pepco $128 million rate case: Pepco just filed this rate case on April 19, a few weeks after the Exelon-Pepco Holdings merger closed. Similar to BGE, Pepco is seeking recovery of its costs related to its AMI installation program. OPC will examine Pepco’s rate request in the same careful way that it examined BGE’s request.
PSC Energy Supplier Investigations: OPC secured several rulings that protect consumers from energy supplier actions that are deceptive and in violation of Maryland law. We have confirmed that suppliers MUST comply with all of the directives of Maryland’s Door-to-Door Sales Act and Telephone Solicitation Act, cannot engage in deceptive (active or by omission) marketing activities – especially when it comes to prices, and can only contract with the utility customer (not a relative, friend or co-occupant). The decisions can be found in Case Nos. 9324 and 9346.
NEW PSC Consumer Protection Regulations – Energy Suppliers: After two years of persistent advocacy for additional consumer protections for residential consumers, the PSC has adopted regulations that provide better protection to consumers. These became effective May 1. The enhancements include better disclosures on variable prices, a separate contract summary documents, and extensive supplier agent credential and training requirements.
NEW PSC Proposed Community Solar Pilot Program Regulations: OPC has been active before the legislature and the PSC in discussing a community solar pilot program for Maryland. The General Assembly passed a Pilot Program law in 2015, and OPC actively participated in PSC work group discussions about program regulations. OPC specifically focused on the appropriate program size for a pilot, the use of a supply cost credit (in contrast to a full retail credit), and consumer protection rules. The proposed regulations were published on April 29, and comments are due by May 30. There is a rule-making session on June 14 at the PSC.
Merger of Exelon – Pepco Holdings, Inc. (Pepco and Delmarva Power) – OPC Appeal
OPC has filed an appeal of the PSC’s 3-2 split decision approving the merger application of Exelon Corporation and Pepco Holdings (Pepco and Delmarva).
The Commission ruled that the transaction is in the public interest, will not harm ratepayers and will provide benefits. OPC had urged the PSC to deny the request because it would be harmful to the interests of residential customers in Maryland. The State of Maryland and other parties had agreed with our conclusions. OPC will submit our first briefs to the Court of Special Appeals on August 17, 2016.
The DC PSC approved the merger in a 2-1 decision on March 24, and the Companies immediately closed the transaction. DC OPC and the DC Attorney General have asked the DC OPC to reconsider the decision.
Exelon will have to return to the MD PSC under a “most favored nation” clause. The MD PSC must make sure that the value of the MD merger conditions matches those of the DC merger order. No filings have been made yet.
Court of Special Appeals Reported Decision: Columbia Gas’ customers do not have to pay environmental clean-up costs on Cassidy property in Hagerstown
In December 2015, the Court upheld the position of OPC, which opposed Columbia Gas’ attempts to recover environmental remediation costs from its customers in its rates. These costs arise from a property purchased by Columbia Gas in 2013 that is not used to provide utility service to its customers. A bill was introduced during the 2016 legislative session that basically would have reversed the Court decision, but did not make it through the Senate.
If you have any suggestions or comments, please use the Contact Us link to share your thoughts with us.
~ Paula M. Carmody
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