WASHINGTON – Maryland’s Public Service Commission chairman called efforts to abandon electric choice for residential customers “premature,” and said Thursday that the fairly new electric choice system needs at least an additional year to make progress.
Commission Chairman Catherine I. Riley’s comments come eight days after the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel declared that deregulation has failed to produce competition and new services for residential customers.
The People’s Counsel report said that since deregulation began 18 months ago, only one company has solicited new residential customers and only 2.6 percent of the state’s residential customers have switched to an alternative supplier.
But Riley said “it is too soon to conclude anything about electric choice except that it has been slow to develop in much of Maryland.”
She noted that more than 11 percent of residential customers in the Potomac Electric portion of Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have selected a competitive supplier, and that 28 percent of total load in that region is being supplied by and alternative supplier. That makes the Washington suburban region the third-most vibrant area of competition in the country.
Texas and Ohio, respectively, are the top competitors, Riley said.
“Clearly, those folks think they are getting a better price, and choice has brought them value,” Riley said in a statement.
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. spokesman Charles Welsh said he expects more competition as time goes on.
But the People’s Counsel report said that only 14 residents in BG&E’s territory have switched to another supplier.
Electric choice became available in July 2000 for much of Maryland. The program lowered and capped residential electricity rates for at least four years. Riley said rates will not be able to change until at least July 1, 2004, under the bill.
The bill also provides consumer education and new consumer protection rules to assist customers in choosing an electric supplier, as well as low- income energy bill assistance.
Riley said the legislature knew and planned for the fact that transition of choice and creation of a fully competitive, robust market would take time to evolve.
She contends that “if the commission, at an appropriate time in the near future determines that retail competition is not developing properly, then the commission will make the necessary recommendations.
“To talk of abandoning choice now for residential customers, may well create a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she said. “We think that unwise.”