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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.

We have been very busy these past several months with issues both old and new. Whether it is a merger case, a rate case, proposed regulations or bills introduced during the 2015 legislative session, we are there to identify issues that affect the bottom line for households across the state – the quality and reliability of these essential services, and the prices we pay for them, and the impacts of new and emerging technologies and services.

Here are just a few of the highlights:

Proposed Merger of Exelon – Pepco Holdings, Inc. (Pepco and Delmarva Power)

OPC has urged the Public Service Commission to reject the merger application of Exelon and Pepco Holdings. After a thorough review by OPC and its 7 expert witnesses, and 12 days of hearings, we have concluded that the proposed deal would be harmful to the interests of our residential customers in Maryland.  The benefits they have proposed (1) would not reduce or eliminate those harms; (2) are not what they seem, particularly since customers, not Exelon, would pay for them; (3) do not need a merger to accomplish them; and (4) try to address important statewide policy decisions on energy matters through settlements with a few parties in this case.  The State of Maryland and other parties agree. OPC’s testimony and legal briefs can be found in PSC Case No. 9361. The last round of hearings will be on April 15-17. A decision is due May 8.

2015 Legislative Session – Successful Results

OPC has testified on a number of House and Senate bills this session, and our written testimony is available on this website.  Our focus this session has been on the following bills affecting residential households and transportation users:  (1) bills that would limit regulation or allow deregulation of basic telephone service (SB 207 and SB 577); (2) Community Solar Bills (SB 398 and HB 1087); and (3) a bill that would allow certain transportation companies and their drivers to operate without permits and licenses (SB 868). OPC has been successful in getting our concerns addressed in all three areas with the passage of 3 bills.  Telephone detariffing (SB 207/HB 472) were amended to maintain regulatory protection of basic local telephone service, while a more troubling SB 577 did not get a vote in committee.  A community solar bill (HB 1087) allows community solar projects to move forward in a pilot program and with a comprehensive study of the costs and benefits for both the solar customers and customers who do not participate. Finally, a transportation network companies bill (SB 868), initially opposed by OPC, was overhauled by the Senate Finance Committee to establish PSC regulatory oversight over these companies and their drivers, establish insurance requirements and promote some further flexibility for TNC and other passenger-for-hire companies. These substantial changes addressed OPC’s consumer protection concerns.

Energy Suppliers and Consumer Protections – PSC Proposed Regulations and Investigations

We had another winter of very cold weather and higher than usual winter bills.  However, some customers realized they were exposed to another threat in the winter of 2013-2014 - they were customers of electricity suppliers who charged a rate 2 to almost 5 times the rate charged by the local electric company – a so-called “variable rate.”  This happened not just in Maryland, but in states throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic.  The PSC opened investigations on high bills and certain suppliers, as well as a review of its consumer protection regulations for suppliers.  OPC has been active in all of these, and has proposed substantial changes to the current regulations to protect customers, with a particular focus on variable rate contracts (rates can change from month to month without advance notice or limit).  The PSC has another hearing set for June 16-17.  Until or unless these changes are adopted, OPC recommends extreme caution with variable rate contracts, and reminds customers to pay attention to automatic renewals of supplier contracts – they often renew as variable rate contracts.

Smart Meter Opt-out and Fee Options

OPC continues to receive calls about smart meters, opt-out options and fees.  See our revised Resource Guides , which may answer many of your questions.

 

If you have any suggestions or comments, please use the Contact Us link to share your thoughts with us.

 

~ Paula M. Carmody