PSC to probe power cutoffs

Examiner grants limited investigation of BGE policies

October 23, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

Rejecting a petition from Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., state regulators decided yesterday to continue a probe into the utility's service termination and collection policies.

The Maryland Public Service Commission is looking into whether BGE unfairly cut off service to residential customers from April to June.

The People's Counsel requested the investigation in an Aug. 6 petition, saying that 22,700 residential customers had their power cut off and that about 2,000 of those customers were low income and qualified for state energy assistance.

BGE officials filed a counter-petition Sept. 26 saying the company hadn't violated any laws and, therefore, the case should be dismissed.

The utility said that it generally limits repayment periods to six months and that it has found that customers with poor credit and late payment histories are less likely to pay their bills.

In a written decision, PSC hearing examiner Joel M. Bright said there was enough evidence to proceed with the investigation.

However, he said, the commission would look at only 13 cases that the People's Counsel and a second party, the All People's Congress, had submitted as evidence of unfair service termination. The thousands of others whose power was cut off will not be included in the case.

"The numbers of individuals who have been terminated, or numbers of individuals who have protested against utility rates as excessive, does not mean that any violations or improprieties have occurred by the utility," Bright wrote.

Although the state didn't rule in their favor, BGE officials agreed with some of the decision.

"Although we would have preferred that the hearing examiner didn't dismiss the [BGE petition], we agree the process should be limited to the facts of the 13 identified customers in the petition," said Charles Welsh, a BGE spokesman. "We look forward to demonstrating in the hearing process that there are no merits to these complaints," Welsh said.

The People's Counsel did not return calls for comment.

The first motions in the case will be filed Oct. 29 and the investigation's final hearings are scheduled for Dec. 17.

Bright had wanted to make a final ruling by Nov. 1, before the winter heating season. He moved the date back after disputes from the People's Counsel, who wanted more time to prepare its case.

"I am concerned for these specific customers and would like to decide the case as quickly as possible," Bright said yesterday.

The People's Counsel petition asked the PSC to determine the policies, guidelines and practices used by BGE in establishing payment plans.

Bright said the hearing would do that by looking at the 13 cases. He said the case also could lead to more wide-ranging changes in the payment regulations of utilities.

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