PSC ads to detail power choices

$5.6 million drive to tell consumers of electricity options

April 05, 2000|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

You use it. Now, choose it.

That's the crux of a $5.6 million public education campaign the Maryland Public Service Commission will launch next week to help state consumers pick a power provider in advance of electric utility deregulation.

The advertising blitz will include 7,000 commercials on 24 television stations, print ads in 70 publications, 2,500 outdoor and transit billboards, a toll-free answer center and a Web site.

Maryland consumers can begin to shop for electricity this month, and competitors to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. can begin providing power in July. The advertising campaign will last until the first week of September.

"We wanted to ensure that all communications we make to consumers are clear and easy to understand," Glenn F. Ivey, PSC chairman, said at a news conference at the commission's offices yesterday.

"We wanted to provide consumers information in easily accessible ways and venues. And, finally, we wanted to create an educated consumer that will make an informed choice as they select an electricity supplier," he said.

"I am very confident that the tools which we are making available to consumers will fulfill these goals," Ivey said.

The call center, which will be staffed by up to 14 people, will answer questions in English and Spanish.

A free 12-page guide with information on consumer rights, new bill formats and a worksheet that provides a list of questions consumers should ask electricity suppliers who solicit their business is also available.

Sandra Guthorn, deputy people's counsel, said her office will supplement the campaign with speaking engagements with community organizations to reach the transient, elderly, illiterate and low-income residents who may not have a computer to log onto the Web site, or even a phone to call the answer center.

"The statewide campaign will get the message out there to people who understand how to access those types of sources, but we have to use an even broader brush stroke," she said.

Along with the theme "You use it. Now, choose it," the ad campaign also features a giant light bulb as the universal symbol of electric choice, said Bob Maczis, president and senior creative director of Noble Steed Associates Inc., the Hunt Valley company that created the advertising campaign.

In November, the commission approved a proposal sponsored by BGE to deregulate Central Maryland's electricity market July 1.

The settlement guarantees residential customers of Maryland's largest utility a six-year, 6.5 percent rate reduction.

Competing power marketers would have to undercut BGE's rate of 4.224 cents per kilowatt hour to save customers money.

BGE will continue selling power to residents and businesses who opt not to shop around.So far, the PSC has granted licenses to five power suppliers to sell electricity in Maryland, including Statoil Energy Services Inc., Pepco Services, FirstEnergy Services Corp., Washington Gas Energy Services Inc. and UGI Energy Services Inc.

License applications are under review for 11 other suppliers.

Consumers can reach the call center at 1-800-800-4491 or the Web site at www.md-electric-info.com.

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