Longer energy bill grace period requested

March 07, 2009|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,liz.bowie@baltsun.com

Gov. Martin O'Malley asked the Maryland Public Service Commission yesterday to consider delaying the April 1 cutoff date for customers who are delinquent on their utility bills.

"I am writing to urge the PSC to do everything in its power to help our families and consumers keep the electricity on," O'Malley said in a letter to PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian.

O'Malley said he wants the PSC to use the additional time to determine what prompted an unusual spike in bills and to develop alternative payment plans for consumers.

Utilities are prohibited from shutting off power during the winter, but that restriction ends April 1. Nearly 84,000 households are delinquent on their utility bills and could see BGE shut off their power then. On Thursday, Nazarian called the situation a "potential tsunami" because so many consumers have seen their utility bills rise this winter, in some cases doubling.

Nazarian issued a statement through a spokeswoman yesterday, saying, "The Commission is reviewing all of the available options including the possibility of delaying terminations and expects to rule shortly on immediate term steps to help customers."

He did not elaborate on what options might be considered.

The governor said he would "follow up" in the next week with Nazarian to see what progress had been made.

O'Malley thanked the PSC for forcing the energy companies to "provide justification" for the increases in utility bills this winter. Maryland has increased its payments to the energy assistance program so that it will serve 25 percent more people than last year.

BGE has said that cutting off power to 84,000 customers would be the worst-case scenario and that it was working with them to set up payment plans.

Nazarian and utility executives were called to Annapolis on Thursday for questioning by lawmakers who have been deluged by constituent complaints.

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