Baltimore City residents voiced their opinions on Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE) Company’s plan to raise base rates for consumers at a forum hosted on Oct. 13 by the Maryland Public Service Commission.

It was the third of five meetings the regulators scheduled around the state. The first two were held in Bel Air and Towson and the final hearings were in Annapolis and Columbia. The commission will approve or reject the Constellation Energy Company’s desired rate hike, which could add $22 to the electricity and $32 to the gas bills of the average Maryland consumer.

BGE requested revisions to their rates in May. If endorsed, the energy company will take in a total of $89.3 million in additional revenue. Company officials say BGE hasn’t raised electric base rates since 1993 and hasn’t filed revisions to gas rates in five years. In a proposal to the Public Service Commission, corporation executives noted that current revenue is “insufficient to produce a reasonable rate of return on its property devoted to (electric and gas) delivery services.”

At the Baltimore hearing, PSC Chairman Douglass R.M. Nazarian and Commissioners Harold Williams and Therese Goldsmith listened solemnly to public complaints, but refused to answer any questions.

One woman detailed how she had to choose between losing her home and paying her sky-high electricity bill this summer. “My pay isn’t going up but every time I turn around my gas and electric is going up,” she said.

Another woman turned to the audience and stated, “The legislators sold you out. O’Malley claims he can’t do anything about this increase. But he can.”

A middle-aged man angrily accused Nazarian of having BGE’s interest and detested the chair’s million-dollar salary. “And you have the gall to take more money from us,” the man said.

Public consensus was that the rate increase would disproportionally affect African Americans, the poor and the elderly.

“I wonder if (you) really understand the impact this will have,” a woman said while staring into the eyes of the commission chairman. “People are sacrificing food and medicine to pay BGE.”

“We don’t have nothing else to give,” cried another woman in exasperation.
Someone proposed pre-paid electricity, while another woman who called herself Grandmama Edna, 63, vowed to go door to door with a blow horn, urging residents to turn off their electricity for one week to boycott BGE.

She added, “You all are inhuman when you turn off gas and electric for people with oxygen tanks.”

A young man in his early 20s waved a sign that read “Electricity is a right.” In total, about 50 residents showed up to state their cases, most of them members of local grassroots organizations.

Only one person expressed approval of the rate increase. Larry Shannahan said BGE must increase consumer rates to raise capital.

The rest of the audience censured the man, calling him a mole planted by the Public Service Commission. PSC leaders occasionally took notes throughout the two-hour meeting, but mostly sat with blank stares.

A court reporter hired by the PSC recorded audio for the event. The commission will sell the transcripts on their website in the next few weeks.