Op­po­si­tion voiced against pro­posed rate hike

The Star Democrat - - LOCAL - By DO­RIAN MITCHELL dmitchell@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CHESTERTOWN — Kent County cit­i­zens, of­fi­cials and busi­ness own­ers voiced their strong op­po­si­tion to a pro­posed en­ergy rate hike by Del­marva Power dur­ing a Tues­day, Oct. 25, pub­lic hear­ing.

Held by the Mary­land Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion at the Kent County Pub­lic Li­brary’s Chestertown branch, the hear­ing was on the util­ity com­pany’s re­quest to in­crease its rates and cre­ate an ad­di­tional $57 mil­lion in rev­enue.

How­ever, the pro­posed hike would be about 15 per­cent, mean­ing an ex­tra cost of $21.42 for a typ­i­cal cus­tomer who uses 1,000 kilo­watt hours a month.

“This rate in­crease is not called for at all though,” said res­i­dent James Durham. “It’s very ex­or­bi­tant.”

Ac­cord­ing to Del­marva Power’s ap­pli­ca­tion, the re­quest is to re­cover costs re­lated to re­li­a­bil­ity im­prove­ments to its dis­tri­bu­tion in­fra­struc­ture and smart me­ter de­ploy­ment.

Chief Pub­lic Util­ity Law Judge Terry Romine presided over the hear­ing. She said a re­but­tal by the Mary­land Of­fice of Peo­ple’s Coun­sel had Del­marva Power ad­just its re­quest from $66 mil­lion to $57 mil­lion.

Those who spoke touched on how the in­crease would neg­a­tively im­pact the way of life for res­i­dents, es­pe­cially low-in­come fam­i­lies.

Kent County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Co­or­di­na­tor Jamie Wil­liams said the county’s poverty rate is 13.8 per­cent. She said if Del­marva Power’s rate is ap­proved, it would mean an ex­tra $252 a year per house­hold.

“There’s a lot of peo­ple that $250-plus a year is just way too much. ... A lot of peo­ple are strug­gling now and tread­ing wa­ter,” water­man Doug West said. “An in­crease like that will put them be­hind.”

Chestertown res­i­dent El­iz­a­beth Wat­son said “en­ergy poverty” is al­ready a chal­lenge in the county and this in­crease would ex­pand it.

“I’m ask­ing all the com­mis­sions to think about the lit­tle peo­ple here,” Kent County Com­mis­sioner Bill Short said. “We have a lot of lit­tle peo­ple here.”

Short said while he could un­der­stand an in­crease of 2 or 3 per­cent to a busi­ness, it is not fair to ask cit­i­zens to ab­sorb higher costs.

An­other con­cern was Del­marva Power’s re­quest would harm smaller busi­nesses and de­ter larger com­pa­nies from com­ing to the area.

Wil­liams said a cost hike would negate the in­cen­tives and pro­grams Kent County has for “grow­ing our eco­nomic base.”

“A busi­ness that com­petes for busi­ness can­not pass on ex­penses in this fash­ion and re­main in busi­ness,” she said. “A pub­lic util­ity should not be per­mit­ted to op­er­ate in this man­ner ei­ther.”

Res­tau­ran­teur J.R. Al­free said tourism, one of Kent County’s main eco­nomic driv­ers, would be im­pacted by the hike due to the costs restau­rants and mari­nas will have to en­dure.

“My profit mar­gin is be­ing eaten up by en­ergy con­sump­tion al­ready,” he said.

Oth­ers talked about hav­ing to pay for the in­stall­ment of smart me­ters. Res­i­dent Janet Chris­tensen-Lewis said it is “un­sup­port­ive” that those me­ters ac­tu­ally serve to re­duce en­ergy costs to the users.

“The ratepay­ers should not be asked to pay that price,” farmer Judy Gif­ford said.

Fran­cis J. Hick­man, Kent County Plan­ning Com­mis­sion mem­ber, said Del­marva Power should have been more trans­par­ent about the pro­posed rate in­crease and about the pub­lic hear­ings to its cus­tomers.

“This is a poor county and they’re not here,” he said. “Some­one needs to speak for them.”

Romine said that af­ter the PSC holds two other pub­lic hear­ings this week, an ev­i­den­tiary hear­ing will take place in Novem­ber. All briefs and re­ports are due in De­cem­ber.

She said she will is­sue her pro­posed order in Jan­uary and the PSC will make a fi­nal de­ci­sion in Fe­bru­ary.

For more in­for­ma­tion about Del­marva Power’s case, visit www.psc.state. md.us and search for case no. 9424.

PHOTO BY DO­RIAN MITCHELL

Restau­ra­teur J.R. Al­free speaks against Del­marva Power’s pro­posed rate in­crease dur­ing a pub­lic hear­ing Tues­day, at the Kent County Pub­lic Li­brary in Chestertown.

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