According to Regina L. Davis, a spokeswoman at the PSC, the commission’s order balanced various interests and obligations, including the need to set just and reasonable rates, ensure safe, reliable service, maintain the utility’s financial integrity and allow BGE to earn a reasonable return.
While the increases, which, according to BGE spokeswoman Rachael Lighty, will not be much (an estimated $2.13 per month), rate adjustments of any size can disproportionately affect those on fixed incomes.
“From our perspective, it’s not just that the BGE rate goes up, it’s that everything goes up every year,” said Rona Stein, senior benefits coordinator at Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI). “The clients’ social security checks are eaten away, and the amount of social security doesn’t go up enough to match those increases. It’s all a balancing act.”
Commercial clients of BGE will see their bills increase by less than 1 percent, said Lighty. All customers will also begin to see surcharges to fund BGE’s Electric Reliability Investment (ERI) on their BGE bills beginning in April 2014.
“BGE’s ERI initiative is a wide-ranging plan that BGE proposes to undertake in the next five years to accelerate reliability improvements set forth in the Maryland PSC’s February 2013 order relating to the June 2012 derecho,” said Lighty.
Although the amount of the surcharge has not yet been determined, estimates for residential customers are 34 cents a month in the first year, with small increases in subsequent years. By the fifth year of the initiative, most residents will be charged an additional 75 cents a month.
Stein said her agency is “always educating” its clients about energy conservation as part of its goal to “make sure that seniors and people with disabilities can stay in their homes.”
Stein also helps her clients to apply for the benefits to which they’re entitled. “When someone says, ‘I won’t apply for food stamps because it’s only $16, I encourage them to apply. Every little bit helps.”
One of Stein’s clients is Shirley Jackson, 83, of Park Heights. Jackson hasn’t noticed the increase in her BGE bill yet, but she admitted that paying even a few dollars more per month would make life harder. After paying her monthly bills, Jackson has about $100 left for food. She had been receiving an additional $16 per month in food stamps, but recently, her monthly food stamp allotment was decreased to $15. “We have to do the best we can,” she said.
Stein said that increases in energy costs not only impact her clients financially. “They also eat away at them emotionally. They can never catch up with financial demands.”
Simone Ellin is JT senior features reporter