- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

Glen Burnie attorney Jamie Bonenberger won’t go broke as a result of rising electricity rates in Maryland, but she’ll be feeling the pinch.

“We’re frightened and worried,” said Ms. Bonenberger, 36, who is concerned also for a disabled tenant who lives on Social Security payments. “He can barely pay his bills — I don’t know how he’s going to do it.”

Ms. Bonenberger is one of nearly 2 million Maryland customers who will see a significant boost in their electricity bills starting this summer.

The Maryland Public Service Commission, the body that oversees utilities, announced earlier this week that average residential rates for Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco), which serves about 500,000 customers in Maryland, will rise by 38.5 percent or $468 to $1,683 annually after June 1.

Rates for Delmarva Power will climb by 35 percent or $464 annually. Customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE), which serves 1.2 million residents, will see a 72-percent jump in their average annual bills, from $1,033 per year to $1,741, according to the commission.

“Seven hundred and fifty bucks, that’s like $60 a month,” said Alfred Rose, 41, a concrete construction worker and resident of Taylorsville. “That’s disturbing.”

Mr. Rose, who is served by BGE, said he wasn’t aware of the rate increases and called his wife to tell her the news. She already knew, but noted that the proposed 72-percent increase is not a certainty.

The power companies have justified the increase as a result of the market, which has seen both increase demand for and reduced production of natural gas, one of the main electricity fuels.

Several residents who were interviewed said they actively try to conserve electricity, while others questioned the viability of doing so.

“It’s not realistic,” said Alemtsehay Wedajo, 50, an artist living in Silver Spring. Ms. Wedajo, who has two children, said she doubted they would stick to a conservation plan. “They can’t even take a shower without their music,” she said.

But even if consumers don’t think they can conserve electricity, there are other subtle ways to save, according to Catherine Williams, vice president of financial literacy at Money Management International, a Houston nonprofit.

“A person would be amazed how little things add up,” said Ms. Williams, who recommended that consumers cut back on small items such as cups of coffee or DVD rentals. “It’s three dollars here and two there and all of the sudden it’s $80.”

Electric companies and the state legislature should help soften the financial blow, residents said.

“I’m not going to rail against corporations on this, but I do think they have to help,” said Bill Ivory, 59, a personal trainer who lives in Kensington. “I don’t think [Hurricane] Katrina is an excuse; I don’t think [the companies] planned for that.”

“It would have been better if they had a step-in increase,” said Dave, a Columbia resident working in the pharmaceutical industry who declined to give his age and last name. “It was kind of unexpected. [The providers] could have at least informed consumers of this earlier.”

Steve Weathersbee, 34, also of Columbia, disagreed.

“I think with gas prices [going up] it was something that people could have predicted,” he said.

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