Few attend Allegheny Power open house

December 15, 2006|by TARA REILLY

HAGERSTOWN - One thing was missing from Thursday's public meeting about Allegheny Power's likely rise in residential electric bills: the public.

The power company held an "open house meeting" at Four Points Sheraton in Hagerstown to gauge customer feedback on how to lessen the blow of what could be significant rate hikes.

That feedback was limited.

Allegheny Power spokespeople said that about 20 customers showed up during the two-hour open house, which was lower than the turnout at the three other meetings the company held in Garrett, Allegany and Frederick counties.

Allen Staggers, Allegheny's manager of communications, said the meeting was advertised locally at least twice but that the low turnout could be a result of the holiday season.


Allegheny Power is scheduled to move to market-based pricing after Dec. 31, 2008, when caps set by the state through deregulation expire, Staggers said.

By deregulating the electric industry in 1999, the state had hoped more competition would result in lower prices for customers.

But a rise in fuel costs and the market price of power could significantly raise rates once the caps expire, according to Allegheny Power. The caps have kept residential bills "artificially low" and below market levels, the company said.

Staggers said he didn't know what kind of rate customers might be facing.

"We can't really predict right now what the rate will be when the rate caps come off," he said.

Allegheny Power expects to submit to the Public Service Commission a plan to soften the effects of higher rates before the end of the year, Staggers said. The Public Service Commission asked that the plan be filed, he said.

Dolores Slattery of Keedysville said she went to the meeting because she's concerned about paying higher electric bills. She saw the steep rise in Baltimore Gas & Electric rates and doesn't want the same to happen locally.

"I'm very concerned," Slattery said.

If rates go up, she said she'd rather the increases be gradual over a number of years, rather than all at the same time.

Staggers said many residents who attended the meetings in Garrett, Allegany and Frederick counties felt the same way.

"I get the sense that most will prefer a gradual increase rather than a one-time big jump," he said.

Allegheny Power spread rate increases over a number of years in Pennsylvania, he said. Rates there are increasing gradually from 2006 to 2012, he said.

West Virginia wasn't affected by deregulation, but the company has asked the Public Service Commission for a rate increase there, Staggers said.

Heather Stumbaugh, representative of customer programs and compliance, said energy assistance programs are in place for low- and fixed-income residents. Those programs are the Maryland Energy Assistance Program and the Electric Universal Service Program.

The Herald-Mail Articles