People's Counsel to appeal examiner's ruling on BGE

PSC regulator limits probe into utility's cutoffs of service

October 24, 2001|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,SUN STAFF

The Maryland Office of People's Counsel said yesterday that it plans to appeal a decision by a state regulator to limit an investigation into whether Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. unfairly cut off service to residential customers who didn't pay their bills on time.

In a written decision released Monday, Joel M. Bright, a Public Service Commission hearing examiner, limited an investigation into whether BGE employed unfair payment and termination practices in 13 cases.

The People's Counsel, which requested the investigation in an August petition, said that it provided evidence that thousands of other customers were affected. Bright's decision to look at just a few customers diminishes its case, it said.

About 22,700 residential customers had their power cut off by BGE from April to June last year, the People's Counsel has said. More than 2,000 of those were low-income residents who qualified for state and public assistance that didn't always come in time to pay bills.

"Our reason for filing an appeal is that the decision has so limited the scope of the investigation that it is tantamount to dismissing the case that we filed," said Paula M. Carmody, assistant people's counsel.

Bright declined comment yesterday, saying it was not proper for him to discuss a pending case.

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

BGE officials requested that the PSC dismiss the People's Counsel complaint but said if the case is to be tried, they agreed that it should be limited to specific disputes. The utility maintains that it decides special payment plans on a case-by-case basis.

"We categorically deny that we discriminate against customers in granting payment arrangements," BGE spokesman Charles Welsh said. "A special payment arrangement constitutes an interest-free loan, and we apply typical business standard of creditworthiness in deciding whether to extend such a loan."

The initial People's Counsel petition called for determining the fairness of BGE policies, guidelines and practices on payment plans.

People's Counsel officials say the examiner's decision could hurt their chances of winning a significant change in BGE policies.

"At best it would provide relief for some or all of those 13 customers, but reading the decision, it does not appear that the proceedings as they are limited could provide relief to any other customers beyond that," Car- mody said.

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