ANNAPOLIS – Legislators from Southern Maryland debated legislation Friday to allow rural electricity cooperatives to sell varied services like Internet access and cable television, as well as power outside their jurisdiction.
Cooperatives are consumer-owned, non-profit businesses, which provide at- cost electric service. Under a bill drafted by the power company lobbyists, the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative and Choptank Electric Cooperative would be allowed to set up for-profit holding companies and sell nearly anything.
Pepco, BGE, Allegheny Power, and Connectiv Power Delivery, which are investor owned, for-profit companies, are able to sell other products and services since Maryland approved electric deregulation in 1999.
Investor-owned companies also are allowed to sell energy throughout the state, but the cooperatives are restricted geographically. The new bill would allow cooperatives to sell energy anywhere.
Most SMECO customers have to stick with the cooperative until at least July 1. But by Nov. 1, SMECO’s customers will be able to choose another energy provider.
Few competitors are expected to move into SMECO’s territory. Ann Knott, SMECO spokeswoman, said its rates are competitive now and will decrease thanks to a new wholesale energy contract and rate caps.
A similar bill was introduced on behalf of the cooperatives last year, but died in committee. There is some opposition already to this year’s version. Delegate Van Mitchell, D-Charles County, said small businesses in Southern Maryland don’t want any competition from a business they helped build. Choptank lobbyist Joe Miedusiewski says the cooperative is not interested in selling anything but energy-related services, and the cooperatives need the diversity to remain competititive. Cooperatives are already able to compete in the heating and air-conditioning market, but have stayed out because of the limited demand and the Choptank’s desire to remain a good neighbor. The Southern Maryland delegation never got to debate the merits of the bill Friday, focusing instead on how to proceed with a discussion that also would involve the Eastern Shore delegation. A spokeswoman said Sen. Thomas Middleton, D-Charles County, is prepared to introduce a Senate bill, but not until the Southern Maryland delegation can hold a hearing with both proponents and opponents. Delegate Ronald Guns, D-Kent County, would sponsor a House bill, but is also waiting to talk to parties from the Eastern Shore. At that point the two regional delegations could get together to hammer out differences and vote to support the bills or not.
– 30 – CNS-1-12-01