Opposition voiced against proposed rate hike
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.
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.