A press release from Doug Kaplan of The Sugarloaf Conservancy tells the story.
For years the citizens of Maryland have been waiting to find out whether the Public Service Commission really cares about justice and protecting the public. We have our answer. The answer is NO!
The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) in their recent Order has taken a position in support of Potomac Edison (PE) on the major issue, against ratepayers’ interests. The Commissioners’ decision is in conflict with both their own Judge’s determination and the West Virginia Public Service Commissioners on the same issue.
The most important decision on this matter was whether or not to require PE to read meters monthly. The PSC Commissioners, as usual, supported the utility company when they overturned the Order issued by the Judge who heard the case.
This should have been expected because in every meeting and mediation, PE’s attorney would declare that PE will not do monthly reads! Apparently lawyers and attorneys trump justice every time! We now know our PSC stands for money in politicians’ and big businesses’ pockets without concern for the problems and concerns of the people or justice at all.
As a brief history, in May 2012, as President of Sugarloaf Conservancy (Doug) filed a formal complaint with the PSC asking them to “establish a formal case to investigate this matter” in response to members’ complaints about PE meter reading practices. These practices included the failure of the company to read meters bimonthly as required, using inaccurate estimations, which caused substantial over and under billings. Both situations have negative ramifications causing harm to those who can least afford to pay overcharges or large catch-up bills.
A case was finally opened in April 2013. After years of delay the Judge in May 2016 ruled against PE. In part of his Order he stated, “I find that PE's meter reading tariff must be modified to require an actual reading on a monthly schedule...” (as is the case with all other electric utilities in Maryland). PE appealed the Judge’s Order. A year passed without any decision by the Commissioners. On May 16th, in a letter sent to the PSC, we insisted they fulfill their obligation. Finally on June 19th, the PSC issued an Order.
The Order upholds most of the findings of the Judge’s ruling, including that PE must submit a monthly report for 24 months; pay a minor penalty of $25,000; offer a payment plan to those customers who receive a substantially low estimate bill, followed by a substantial catch up bill the following month; modify their bill to clearly show when an estimate occurs and the reason for not reading the meter. The reversal of the Judge’s Order to require PE to read meters monthly is in stark contrast to a similar case in West Virginia. West Virginia took less than a month to open a case after the issue was raised whereas the Maryland PSC waited a year after we asked for an investigation; Maryland dragged out the case for four years before the Commissioners issued a final Order; West Virginia issued a comprehensive ruling against PE including the requirement that they read meters on a monthly basis after only a year. Maryland PSC Order required PE address only 4 areas of concern whereas in West Virginia their PSC hit PE on twelve major requirements.
There is great concern that this slap on the wrist will embolden PE to resume their past business practices, which have caused severe harm to so many. Unfortunately the losers will be the senior citizens on a fixed income and the poor who can least afford to either pay for electricity they have not consumed or be hit with a sizable catch-up bill. The Commissioners, through this Order, confirmed their past history of supporting utility companies at the expense of ratepayers in Maryland. This pattern should be disturbing to everyone and unfortunately will not likely change.
FirstEnergy, Potomac Edison's parent company, screwed up. In the wake of FirstEnergy's take over of the former Allegheny Energy, FirstEnergy decided to scrap Allegheny's bi-monthly meter reading procedures and replace them with FirstEnergy's meter reading practices. Except FE's meter reading practices were designed for companies who read meters monthly. When a reading is skipped at a monthly read company, the issue can resolve itself the very next month. However, when this scheme is applied to a bi-monthly read company, the problem often cannot right itself for several months, because the read cycle is 60 days long, instead of 30.
Combine this with FE's changes to meter reading personnel, including crappy pay and requiring the use of a personal vehicle, and suddenly there weren't many meter readers available to catch up on missed reads.
It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out where the mistakes were made. FirstEnergy is just that stupid, folks. Instead of fixing its problems, the company had to be dragged kicking and screaming into costly regulatory hearings because it refused to admit that it had done anything wrong.
Now the citizens of West Virginia pay double the cost for monthly meter reading, and Maryland holds its breath hoping that the stupidity doesn't once again rule supreme on a bi-monthly read schedule.
This whole debacle was caused by a clumsily managed merger that both PSCs approved with nary a care. The only consequences were to the hundreds of electric customers who paid the ultimate price of inaccurate bills, electric shut offs, and endless payment plans.
Oh, and a $25K fine. Which ought to come out of some fat ass executive's pay for performance bonus (he'll hardly notice it), but sadly will probably find its way back into the electric rates you pay. And pay. And pay. And pay.