- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

UPDATED:

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Maryland Public Service Commission is looking into a recent increase in complaints from consumers about unusually high utility bills.

The commission directed the state’s gas and electric companies to submit explanations for the high winter bills, the number of complaints they have received and their responses to those complaints.

“The complaints do not appear to correspond with any rate increases that have been accepted or approved by the Commission in the past several months,” the commission wrote in the notice on Wednesday. The commission did not say how many complaints it has received.

The utilities must reply by Feb. 20, and the commission has scheduled a hearing for Feb. 26.

The order expands an earlier commission inquiry into the utilities’ policies on collection and termination of service to delinquent customers and assistance to customers who are behind on their bills.

Colder weather has caused customers to use more energy, utility officials and advocates say. However, utility bills have risen while energy prices have been falling and consumers are frustrated.

The “majority of concerns about higher bills is due to the fact that customers are using more this winter,” said Mark Case, senior vice president of strategy and regulatory affairs for Baltimore Gas & Electric.

The number of BGE customers inquiring about higher bills this winter is up 1 percent from the previous year, Mr. Case told the Baltimore Sun.

Mr. Case said there have been twice as many days with temperatures below 30 degrees this winter compared with a year ago. He noted that usage usually doubles when temperatures fall that low.

“We do believe that for the most part it’s a matter of usage,” agreed Clay Anderson, a spokesman for Pepco. “You’re going to have an increase … with colder temperatures.”

Another reason for the higher bills is that utilities locked in rates for electricity and natural gas when energy prices were higher, according to the utilities.

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