Shore Residents oppose Delmarva rate hike
WYE MILLS— Eastern Shore residents voiced strong opposition on Wednesday, Oct. 26, to a proposed utility rate hike by Delmarva Power and Light Company during a public hearing in the Economic Development building at Chesapeake College.
The public hearing, the second of three on the Shore, was in regards to an application filed July 20 by Delmarva for adjustments to its retail rates for the distribution of electricity to the Maryland Public Service Commission. Delmarva is seeking an increase that would produce $66 million.
In October, Chief Public Utility Law Judge of the Maryland Public Service Commission Terry Romine, who oversaw the hearings, said Delmarva accepted adjustments recommended by the Maryland Office of People’s Council and the PSC’s technical staff to reduce the increase to $57 million.
If approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission, customer’s electric bill, based on monthly consumption of 1,000 kilowatt hours, would increase by $21.42 per month. This is the first rate increase Delmarva has requested since 2012.
Maryland Sen. Steve Hershey expressed “strong opposition” to the “absorbent rate increase” and shared several concerns about the proposal. Hershey said the increase was to meet some “reliability standards,” among other things, and that though the General Assembly put in legislation requiring public utility companies meet certain standards, “it was not with the expectation that we would receive this type of rate increase on customers.”
Hershey also shared concerns about the Delmarva customers having been required to have Advanced Metering Infrastructure, known as smart meters, installed at their homes and questioned how long this increase would need to be in place to pay for those meters. “If we found it cost a certain amount of money per household for an AMI and paying a portion of this $21 rate per 1,000 kWh ... is there a point in time when the smart meters would be paid off and that rate would decrease?”
Dorchester County Councilman Rick Price said a $21 increase per month may not sound like much for some, “but it is an enormous amount for people working two jobs or deciding what to pay for in terms of medicine, groceries or utilities.”
Price said the average poverty rate on in Eastern Shore counties is 17.9 percent, 17.5 percent in Dorchester County, citing statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau. According to the county’s Department of Social Services, energy assistance to homeowners in 2016 so far has been provided to 2,568 homes for a total of $3,083,736 through the Maryland Energy Assistance Program and Office of Home Energy Programs.
“In many cases, that support avoided cut-offs of essential energy,” Price said.
Helen Bennett, a Queen Anne’s County resident who operates a small pet shop in Chester, said her fiscal year budget is already in place and there is no room for an increase. Bennett said she understand that every business has to grow, but putting the expense of improvements on the backs of customers is not the proper way to handle it.
Bennett said she knows there is a life expectancy of certain things in her shop, such as LED lights or tanks, but said she budgets for those modernization and improvements.
“The first thing I do not do is charge the customers who are the very reason as how I make my living,” she said.
Joe Brown of Centreville, who used to be a small business owner and is now retired and on fixed income, said the “increase Delmarva is looking for certainly seems out of line.”
Brown said that Social Security didn’t increase at all last year and that this year’s increase isn’t even going to be 1 percent.
“If they think they have a reliability problem ... you budget for that,” he said. “I was a small business owner and you’re always looking at your capital expenditures ... you put that in as part of the budget.”
Other speakers talked about the choices community members have to make who are on fixed income or are low to moderate income. Speakers also voiced displeasure with the annual salaries of the executives of the company and that it was unfair they get millions per year and the customers they represent are struggling to afford the proposed increase.
Maryland Sen. Addie Eckhardt said the Eastern Shore is still recovering from the past several years economically and that with the upcoming increase to health care this January and this rate hike presents a “unique dilemma” for rural counties.
Information about the case can be found on the Public Service Commission’s website, www.esc.psc. state.md.us, and search case 9424 for the electronic documents.
Evidentiary hearings on the matter began on Nov. 2 and more hearings will take place Nov. 9–10 in PSC’s Baltimore office. Romine committed to issuing her proposed order by Jan. 4. Parties have a chance to appeal, but a final order will be rendered by Feb. 17.
Eastern Shore residents filled a room in the Economic Development building at Chesapeake College on Wednesday, Oct. 26, voicing opposition to Delmarva Power and Light Company’s proposed monthly utility increase.