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Electric utility deregulation discussed

May 30, 1998

By LAURA ERNDE

Staff Writer

Maryland consumers could miss out on savings expected to come with the deregulation of the electric utility business, state utility experts said Friday.

Consumers must join together and have their voices heard if they want to benefit from the process, expected to begin in July 2000, said Frederick H. Hoover Jr., director of the Maryland Energy Administration.

"This is going to happen with you or to you," he told a group of about 60 people attending a conference on rural Maryland at the Hagerstown Venice Inn.

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Businesses, which stand to gain or lose the most from the way Maryland implements deregulation, already are lobbying, said Public Service Commission Chairman Glenn F. Ivey.

"There are big stakes and billions of dollars at play here," he said.

But consumers must educate themselves and make their wishes known, he said.

Many of the key decisions will be made during the next session of the Maryland General Assembly, which begins in January.

It's hard for most people to understand the need for electric deregulation, Ivey said.

"People don't like change," he said.

The process will be confusing and is likely to bring with it the same dinnertime telemarketing calls as has telephone deregulation.

But it may also lead to lower costs and new products such as a remote control for your home heating system, said Kathleen A. Wagner with Enron Capital and Trade Resources Corp., which is seeking to compete with power giants like Hagerstown-based Allegheny Power.

The average household in Maryland pays 2 percent to 3 percent of disposable income on its electric bill, said Gary Furman of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

A rate cut wouldn't have as much impact on those consumers as on large customers like Eastalco Aluminum Co. in Frederick, Md., he said.

The Maryland Energy Administration is recommending consumers unite to get more leverage and bargaining ability when it comes to power rates and service.

People could join together based on common interests or geography, said Assistant Director Christopher R. Cook.

Local governments may play a large role, he said.

Policy makers need to make decisions for those people who will be unable or unwilling to chose an electric service provider, he said.

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