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PSC wants consumers ready for electricity deregulation

February 24, 2000|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

As of July 1, most residential customers in Maryland will be able to shop for the electricity that lights their homes and powers their refrigerators, televisions, computers and other appliances.

There's a lot they need to know to make an informed choice, a spokesman for the Maryland Public Service Commission's consumer education campaign said Thursday during a forum in Hagerstown.

This spring, consumers will be able to get all the information they need, said Al Cappannelli, director of media relations for High Point Communications Group, a New Hampshire company hired by the commission to get the word out.

The Public Service Commission's goal is to make it easy for people to learn about electric deregulation, Cappannelli said.

By April, information will be available online, by telephone, in television, radio and print ads, on billboards, in comprehensive guides and topic-specific brochures, and from community and consumer groups, he said.

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It will include a simple explanation of what regulatory changes mean to consumers, a glossary of deregulation terms, a list of electric generation companies licensed to provide their power and a guide to comparing offers, Cappannelli said.

As of July 1, electrical service for customers of investor-owned utilities - Allegheny Power in Washington and Frederick counties - will be divided into three parts: generation, transmission and distribution.

Competition applies only to the generation source, referred to as the "electricity supplier," Cappannelli said.

Transmission and distribution will continue to be provided by the local utilities, referred to as "electric companies," he said.

Consumers should learn these terms and many others before they start shopping, Cappannelli said.

While research has shown consumers like the idea of competition, they share some common concerns - like what they'll do when the power goes off and whether they'll be forced to shop for a new generation company, he said.

In the case of a power outage, people will still call their traditional electric company, Cappannelli said.

And customers who don't make a choice will still receive power from their traditional electric company, an arrangement referred to as "standard offer service," he said.

While some electricity suppliers have already started getting their names out, companies can't make direct offers to consumers until they're licensed by the Public Service Commission, said Gunter Elert, regulatory economist for the commission.

Allegheny Power this spring will start its own consumer education effort, which will included bill inserts and brochures, spokesman Guy Fletcher said.

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