Bigger BGE bills drawing questions from some customers
Utility points to colder weather in Baltimore and higher energy prices nationally, meanwhile a rate hike approved two years ago is just kicking in now – it took effect February 1
Above: Seeking a rate increase, BGE cited the cost of maintaining and upgrading the power grid. (Facebook)
Baltimore area customers who opened up their heating bills recently have been venting about charges they say spiked sharply – in some cases rising to twice the size of previous bills.
“Anyone else get an insane BGE bill for January?” one poster prompted, kicking off a lengthy thread.
Some noticed the three sentences at the top of their bill alerting customers to a rate increase that would mean “the average residential electric bill will increase by $3.28 per month and the average residential natural gas bill will increase by $2.40 per month.”
So was this the rate hike people were seeing?
“Not sure whose went up the $3.28, ’cause ours went up well over $100, almost double past bills,” a customer complained.
A Baltimore Gas & Electric Company spokeswoman confirmed there is an increase coming, but said it only took effect this past Tuesday, February 1.
Bigger bills could be due to a number factors, communications manager Tasha Jamerson said, pointing to national trends like surging inflation and soaring energy prices. And she brought up the weather.
“I think a lot of the time people don’t take into account greater winter usage,” Jamerson said. “It’s been colder this year.”
She’s right when it comes to January – which was colder in the Baltimore area this year than the same month last year.
The mean temperature for Baltimore in January 2022 was 32.3 degrees, compared to 36.7 degrees for January 2021, according to the National Weather Service.
“Last year’s January temperature was 3.8 degrees above normal and this year’s was 2 degrees below normal,” a forecaster told The Brew. “That’s almost a six degree difference.”
Increases in 2022, 2023
Still, a rate increase is now in effect for BGE’s 1.3 million electric customers and more than 680,000 natural gas customers.
In December 2020, the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) approved a three-year rate plan for the company that kept rates flat in 2021 but included increases in 2022 and 2023.
The Commission’s order said it could potentially use federal tax credits to reduce the impact of the rate hike, depending on the possible impact of a faltering economy or the Covid-19 pandemic.
BGE had sought to keep the rates flat in 2022, as well as 2021, with the increase taking effect in 2023. But the Commission opted to increase the rates gradually, rather than all at once.
“In order to mitigate the potentially severe economic impacts of approving a rate increase during an unprecedented pandemic, the Commission approved BGE’s plan to accelerate the use of certain tax credits to avoid any increase to customer bills for the first year of BGE’s multi-year rate plan,” PSC chairman Jason M. Stanek said at the time.
“However, the Commission elected not to exhaust those credits to prevent an increase in 2022, because doing so would have led to a larger rate increase in 2023 and beyond.”
Grid Upgrades, “Smart” Equipment
In granting the rate hike, the commission okayed millions of dollars worth of upgrades the utility said it needed to improve safety and efficiency.
These including grid enhancements such as those planned for the Tradepoint Atlantic Redevelopment site and “installing smart automation equipment to more quickly identify and circumvent damage to the electric grid and reduce the frequency and duration of power outage.”
Other costs cited in a press release last month about the upcoming rate increase:
• Replacing outmoded technologies, such as limited capacity 4kV electric systems, to improve reliability, enable greater adoption of solar energy and electric vehicle charging and to increase capacity in areas where redevelopment adds additional customer demand.
• Preparing the grid for extreme weather with continued tree trimming and vegetation management to ensure power line clearance and improve reliability during extreme weather events.
• Replacing outmoded natural gas pipeline segments using modern technologies and installing over-pressurization protection equipment to improve safety and reliability.
Commenting at the time on the Commission’s 2020 approval of the rate hike, the state’s independent advocate for ratepayers applauded the commission for a decision that deferred increases for a year.
But Maryland People’s Counsel Paula M. Carmody had also questioned the approved spending, arguing that much of the work planned is “ill-timed for the current economy.”
Carmody said her office “had hoped for more significant reductions in the three-year spending increases, and the cost impacts for customers in future years.”
BGE’s Jamerson points customers to the utility’s website for information about energy efficiency programs and usage assessments, how to sign up for an account to track usage and how to take advantage of bill relief and assistance programs.