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Saying No to Rate Hikes

Utilities ask Public Service Commission for $92 million

The PSC has granted Montgomery County's request to join AARP and others in opposing Pepco's rate increase. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and County Council President Roger Berliner (D) announced that the county would "vigorously contest" Pepco's request. They urged the PSC to hold "Pepco financially accountable for its failure to honor its fundamental public utility obligation to provide reliable power."

In its petition to intervene in the rate case, Montgomery County told the PSC that "Pepco's rates must not include any costs or expenditures that result from attempting to rectify the imprudent conduct of Pepco in providing unreliable service to its customers while … failing to properly inspect and maintain its infrastructure."

The Maryland Office of People's Counsel, the state's advocacy office for utility consumers, is another party to the case. The office previously argued strongly before the PSC in favor of the fine levied against Pepco for its maintenance lapses.

Gene Gary-Williams, 76, of Kettering, a volunteer member of the AARP Maryland executive council, knows that speaking up can make a big difference. Angry Prince George's County residents confronted Pepco at a meeting several years ago after repeated outages. They argued that such service lapses would not have been allowed to continue in wealthier, nonminority neighborhoods.

Since then, the area hasn't had any major outages "even in the worst storms," she said.

In its application filed with the PSC, Pepco said its rate requests are justified because the company has not been able to earn as much on its investments as the PSC has guaranteed. The commission approved a 9.83 percent return on equity in its latest rate case, Pepco said, but the utility's actual return on equity was minus 0.36 percent.

"Simply put, the company is losing money on its Maryland operations," Pepco told the PSC.

A PSC decision is expected by July.

Also of interest: A guide to your home energy consumer rights.

Art Dalglish is a writer and editor based in Rockville, Md.

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