A Montgomery County citizens group will again have a voice as state regulators consider raising Pepco’s rates.
Maryland’s Public Service Commission has allowed Powerupmontco, an online citizens group tracking electric reliability issues, to participate as it considers Pepco’s latest request for a rate hike, Abbe Milstein said.
Milstein founded Powerupmontco in the wake of a big 2012 storm that caused days of power outages. The group served as a way to share information about electric reliability and performance.
On top of the $27.9 million rate hike that went into effect last July, Pepco has asked the commission for more, this time an additional $43.3 million, which would add $4.80 to the average customer’s monthly bill.
Pepco opposed Powerupmontco’s participation in the case.
Maryland defines who can participate in rate cases and Pepco does not feel Powerupmontco qualifies, company spokeswoman Myra Oppel said in an email.
“Pepco welcomes the input of all of the interested stakeholders, and especially its customers,” she said. However, the rate case itself is a formal evidentiary proceeding subject to clear legal requirements for participation, and we feel that Powerupmontco does not satisfy those requirements.”
The Maryland Office of People’s Counsel questioned what exactly is Powerupmontco.
People’s Counsel Paula Carmody said her office did not oppose Powerupmontco intervening in the case, but wanted to understand the organization and its membership.
Maryland’s Public Service Commission follows a court-like process — complete with attorneys, witnesses and experts — for deciding rate cases. And it can be expensive. For example, Montgomery County has spent about $360,000 over the last four years fighting rate increases, county spokesman Patrick Lacefield said.
While utilities can request a portion of expenses in the case be returned via rates, Milstein said participating citizen groups and nonprofits like Powerupmontco, which took part in Pepco’s last rate case, must shoulder all associated costs.
Del. Alfred C. Carr has asked the General Assembly to ease that burden on citizens and allow greater citizen participation in utility regulation proceedings.
Carr (D-Dist. 18) of Kensington has introduced a bill that uses California as a model and allows nonprofits and groups such as Powerupmontco to recoup lawyer fees, expert fees and other expenses involved in participating.
Carr said his bill would level the playing field in proceedings and lead to greater scrutiny of utilities.
“The goal in all of this is improvement of reliability,” Milstein said.
Pepco started a five-year plan to improve reliability in 2010 after an investigation by the Maryland Public Service Commission into the utility’s reliability and quality found it operated with unacceptably low reliability for years. The PSC acknowledged the utility’s poor performance, fining it $1 million for failure to properly maintain its system.
Other legislation this session would funnel fines paid by utilities that fail to meet reliability standards into a dedicated account to then be used by the utilities to improve reliability.