BGE Customers to Face Heftier Energy Bills in June

By John Wagner and Avis Thomas-Lester
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 24, 2007

Residential customers of Maryland's largest electricity provider, Baltimore Gas and Electric, could see their bills increase by as much as 50 percent starting next month under a plan that state regulators said yesterday they approved "with reluctance, but with little legal option."

The Public Service Commission also agreed to an optional phase-in plan that would allow consumers to defer a portion of the increase interest-free. Under that plan, rates would rise only about 38 percent in the coming year, but the difference would have to be paid on future bills.

Commission Chairman Steven B. Larsen said he had concerns about the effect of the increase on people with low incomes, but he said the commission had no legal basis to deny the increase as Maryland transitions to market prices after years of capped rates.

"At the end of the day, we're bound by the facts and the law that were presented to us," Larsen said.

BGE serves about 1.1 million customers in central Maryland, including Anne Arundel and Howard counties and a slice of Prince George's County. A 72 percent increase proposed by the company last year led to a special session of the General Assembly, in which lawmakers limited the immediate increase to 15 percent.

Then-Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley (D) used the increase in his successful campaign to unseat Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) last year. Yesterday, Republicans struck back, saying O'Malley -- who has replaced a majority of the commission members since he took office in January -- was no more successful than Ehrlich, despite his campaign rhetoric, in reining in utility prices.

For BGE residential customers who do not accept the deferment plan, a typical bill using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month would increase from about $92 to $139.

Customers served by Pepco, which provides electricity to almost 500,000 residences in most of the close-in suburbs in Montgomery County and Prince George's suburbs, can soon expect a more modest increase.

Pepco spokesman Robert Dobkin said the company is waiting for approval from the commission for an increase of 5.8 percent that would reflect higher fuel costs. The increase, which the company has told consumers is coming, would raise a typical bill for a residential customer using 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month from $128.95 to $136.43, he said.

A separate request pending before the commission would raise the bill an additional 3.9 percent to cover higher distribution costs, making a typical bill more than $141 a month.

Pepco customers in Maryland absorbed much larger increases last year, when a 39 percent increase in the total bill took effect June 1.

In the District, about 250,000 Pepco customers are facing an increase of almost 12 percent, with the typical bill for a residential customer using 750 kilowatt-hours a month slated to rise from $73.63 to $82.17, Dobkin said.

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