- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 30, 2009

BALTIMORE (AP) | The Maryland Public Service Commission lifted a temporary ban on service shutoffs Tuesday and instructed utilities to offer customers payment plans.

More than 120,000 Maryland customers are behind on their home gas and electric bills. A plan approved by state regulators will allow them to work out interest-free payment plans with utilities.

“The commission intends … to provide customers who are genuinely struggling a fair opportunity to pay their bills without interruption of service,” Doug Nazarian, commission chairman, said in a statement. “This should benefit the utilities as well, since the payment plans should increase the likelihood that customers are able to pay bills they otherwise might not.”

Last month, the commission ordered utilities to halt terminations while it examined growing delinquencies among customers facing high winter utility bills during a recession.

Only 2 percent of the turnoff notices that Baltimore Gas and Electric sent out last year resulted in disruption of service, which typically was restored within 72 hours, according to company spokesman Rob Gould.

“We’re in the process of determining how we would implement the order,” Mr. Gould said. “At the same time, we have received some calls from customers, where we are engaging with them in dialogue about an extended payment plan.”

Before sending termination notices or proceeding with terminations, utilities must notify customers that flexible payment plans are available, with no interest or late fees. Late fees accrued before the start of a payment plan would not be waived.

The customer would then have 14 days to contact the utility and negotiate a plan. Those who can’t work out a plan can appeal to the commission.

The commission said payment plans can be for as long as one year but should be tailored to individual circumstances.

Utilities cannot require any down payment from customers whose service has not previously been terminated, who have made payments within the past 90 days or who have not defaulted on payment plans. Otherwise, the utilities can require up to a 25 percent down payment.

The commission is continuing its investigation of a spike in consumer complaints about higher-than-normal energy bills.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide