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AARP Maryland Advocates Battle Unfair Utility Surcharges and Rate Hikes

The silhouette of the evening electricity transmission pylon
iStockphoto/zhengzaishuru

Two decades ago energy companies and their lobbyist convinced legislators that Maryland consumers would save money if only they deregulated the electric and gas companies. During the 2019 session, the industry hired dozens of plugged-in lobbyists to advocate for a measure to change the way electric and gas utilities set their annual rates. HB 653 Electric Companies and Gas Companies – Rate Regulation – Alternative Rate Plans was sponsored by Chairman Dereck Davis. Under the radar of the Public Service Commission and consumer advocates, the bill passed the House Economic Matters Committee 20-0 and the full House 83-51. AARP Maryland, however, took notice and our members sprang into action, sending hundreds of emails and faxes to their senators urging them to kill this anti-consumer measure. The bill’s supporters complained about the “noise” made by AARP volunteer advocates, but our efforts made a difference. The more AARP members made “noise,” the more lawmakers began to pay attention and the bill stalled in the Senate.

Under current Maryland law, the Maryland Public Service Commission reviews utility companies’ costs from the previous year to determine what rates they can set for the upcoming year. HB 653allowed different ways to calculate ratepayer costs – including looking ahead to the strength of energy markets, the utilities’ financial stability, and natural forces like weather and climate. The industry argued that thirty-eight other states have already adopted some form of this regulatory system, but what AARP knows is that these alternative methods increased average monthly bills in states that have adopted the so-called “modernized rate-setting” system. The fight to protect ratepayers is ongoing. Just last week, Maryland energy suppliers filed for a rate increase that would take effect in December. Affordable utilities matter to all of us. If you are interested in getting involved in this issue during the 2020 session, contact Tammy Bresnahan at tbresnahan@aarp.org .

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