Shore Res­i­dents op­pose Del­marva rate hike

Record Observer - - News - By MIKE DAVIS mdavis@kibay­times.com

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.

PHOTO BY MIKE DAVIS

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.

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