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Legislation – State – Current Legislation Issues

2016 General Assembly Session

This was a very active legislative session in general, and we saw an historically large number of bills filed this year.  About 56 bills were filed addressing utility regulation issues.  In addition, a significant number of environment bills were submitted, and some had both energy and environmental impacts.  OPC reviewed all of the energy, telecommunication, utility consumer, and energy/environmental bills to determine if they had any major affect--positive or negative--on residential utility customers.

During the 90 day session OPC testified on several bills related to bill surcharges and other cost recovery mechanisms, the renewable portfolio standard (RPS), clean-energy, Public Service Commission study requirements, and clarifications of the Transportation Network Companies law passed in 2015.

You can review all OPC 2016 written testimony, as well as our testimony in years 2012 through 2015 on our website Publications page .

Several of the bills of importance to residential consumers fall into one of several categories:

Surcharges and Other Challenges to Traditional Rate Setting Procedures

OPC opposed several bills this year that would allow utilities to recover costs outside of the rate-setting process, allow for more rapid recovery of costs between rate case and permit recovery of environmental remediation costs that have been prohibited by the Public Service Commission.  None of the bills passed, which was good for consumers.


HB571, as originally introduced, would have required the PSC to allow gas companies to recover costs of environmental remediation of property that was not owned by the utility and not used to provide service to customers.  This bill was introduced in direct response to an attempt by Columbia Gas to recover such costs fora parcel in Hagerstown, MD known as the "Cassidy property."  OPC had opposed the cost recovery in a rate case, and the PSC, Circuit court and Court of Special Appeals agreed that cost recovery was not proper.  Although the bill was amended to permit, not require, the PSC to allow cost recovery, and added other qualifiers, OPC opposed the bill because it undermined fundamental principles of utility regulation--utilities should only recover costs related to property used and services for the customers.  The bill passed the House and Senate Finance Committee, but after extended debate, did not get a vote before the end of session.


SB510/HB546, would have (1) increased the cap from $2 to $4 for its existing natural gas STRIDE (infrastructure replacement surcharge) program, and (2) established a new "electric STRIDE" with a $4 cap.  The electric STRIDE program was defined very broadly and well beyond infrastructure replacement for reliability purposes.  If approved, electric companies could seek recovery from utility customers for programs targeting economic growth and environmental sustainability. 


SB778/HB1324, would set up different processes for natural gas utility evaluations of expansions of their gas distribution system, withpotnetial negative costs impacts on existing customers.  OPC opposed the bill, and recommended that a study be done before any changes to the existing methods for addressing gas system expansion are made.


Finally, SB1131 would have permitted electric cooperatives (SMECO and Choptank Electric Coop.) to increase their fixed charges (customer charges0 up to 25% per year outside of a traditional rate case, based on charges in a wide variety of operational expenses.  In four years, this would effectively double the fixed charge.


All of these bills are still in their respective committees.  

 

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Major Clean Energy Bills Passed

The "Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Act--Re authorization, HB610/SB323, passed and has been signed by the Governor.  The bill provides for a statewide reduction of GHG by 40% from 2006 levels by 2030, a goal that both the Climate Commission and the Department of the Environment agree Maryland is on target to meet

RPS Since the adoption of a Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2004, bill to revise the RPS have been introduced almost every year since then.  2016 is no exception.  As filed, HB1106 and SB921 were similar bills.  The core of both was an increase in the RPS from 20% by 2022 standard to a 25% by 2020 standard, with a detailed clean energy jobs program.  Since all indications are that we are on track to meet such an objective, OPC did not oppose that RPS revision.  However, the Senate version did have a provision to require electric companies to procure certain emissions-free non-Solar renewable energy and capacity (basically onshore wind) through long-term contracts, with costs recovered from utility customers through base rates.  OPC testified against that provision, which was removed by Committee amendment from the bill that passed

OPC supported HB705/SB725 bills that would have enhanced financing opportunities for energy efficiency opportunities for energy efficiency measures, through the Maryland Clean Energy Center.  SB726 was substantially amended to eliminate the "Green Bank" initiative and funding, and was revamped as a Task-force Bill to study the MCEC and programs it could provide, including a Green Bank.

OPC also supported HB1281 which strengthens the Advisory Board for the Strategic Energy Investment Fund, that receives the proceeds from the RGGI auctions.

Another bill, HB387/SB912, focused on clean energy loan programs for residential property, and passed with amendments to require the Maryland Clean Energy Center to lead a study on the feasibility of implementing PACE models in Maryland.  The report is due by October 1, 2016.

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Energy Storage Bills Did Not Pass 

Two bills regarding energy storage systems also were introduced, but received unfavorable reports.  OPC opposed one bill which would have added a category for energy storage systems to the RPS law.  The other bill would have required the PSC to establish a proceeding to set up targets and policies for electric companies to procure energy storage systems, with costs to be recovered from ratepayers, if deemed appropriate.

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Study Bills Did Not Pass 

Bills to require the PSC to study Electric Affordability and the use of retail suppliers, as well as the creation of a Community Solar program for EUSP (energy assistance) participants.  The first bill has passed the House (no cross file from Senate), and the second bill received an unfavorable vote.  The PSC will be conducting a 3-year study of community solar, and the ability of low and moderate income customers to participate, as part of the Community Solar Pilot Program established last year.  

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The General Assembly Clarifies the Transportation Service Companies (TNC) Law

PASSED. Bills were introduced to make certain clarifying changes to the TNC law that was adopted last year.  Among other things, the bill made certain changes to the insurance law to enable availability of TNC drives and passengers, and extended deadlines for PSC review of TNC driver applications.

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Smart Meters

FAILED. A number of bills were introduced this session again related to the deployment of smart meters by electric companies. In general, the focus of the bills was on codifying the PSC decision to permit customers to “opt out” of the smart meter installations, and prohibiting assessment of fees to cover the costs of maintaining this parallel system. The bills received an unfavorable vote in the House committee.

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