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Allegheny Power customers receive new bulbs, surcharge

Mass mailing of energy-saving bulbs swamps Md. post offices

Mass mailing of energy-saving bulbs swamps Md. post offices

January 07, 2008|By MARLO BARNHART

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Allegheny Power's efforts to supply its 220,000 residential Maryland customers with energy-efficient fluorescent light bulbs might have burned out some post office personnel.

And as it turns out, the package of two bulbs isn't free ? customers are being charged 96 cents on their monthly bills for one year ? in all, $11.52 ? under the category of energy surcharge.

"The charge became effective in October," said Todd Meyers, spokesman for Allegheny Power.

He said the Maryland Public Service Commission on Sept. 26, 2007, gave the utility permission to add the surcharge to customers' bills.

Contacted by telephone, a large Hagerstown supermarket chain store spokesman said a comparable light bulb made by General Electric sells for $7.99 for each bulb.

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In December, Maryland post offices began receiving deliveries of skids containing large boxes filled with smaller boxes containing two Earthbrite 13-watt bulbs.

"They came in waves," said Jay Jones, customer service supervisor at the Hagerstown Post Office on West Franklin Street. Coming right in the middle of the Christmas rush, Jones said the delivery of more than 30,000 boxes of light bulbs was disruptive.

The problem was that each of those boxes had to be individually scanned and that meant more time on the part of carriers, Jones said. Some carriers sorted their regular mail, delivered it, came back in for the boxes, then returned to their routes to deliver them, he said.

"This caused overtime for some of our carriers," Jones said.

The boxes were still coming in, Jones said Friday, but now they arrive in spurts instead of waves.

Tammy Staley, a clerk at the Funkstown Post Office, said the light bulbs that were delivered there for the 760 postal customers had residents' street addresses, not post office boxes, on the packages.

Funkstown does not have home mail delivery. Residents' mail is placed in boxes at the post office. The post office does not put mail into the boxes unless the box number is included in the address.

"We got them in with street addresses, and we had to put the P.O. boxes on them and send them back," Staley said. "It took some time to do all that."

As of Friday, the boxes hadn't come back for delivery, she said.

Kami Hoffman, officer in charge of the Boonsboro Post Office, said the bulbs posed a problem for her operation, too.

"Ours came in on skids, and this office is too small to handle skids," Hoffman said.

She and her employees had to break the large boxes down right away so they could be accommodated in the building.

Hoffman said she used a lot of overtime and personnel to handle the deliveries.

Two in-town routes and five rural routes cover the more than 3,000 customers in the Boonsboro mailing area, Hoffman said.

Allegheny Power provides service to Maryland customers from Frederick County, Md., west, Meyers said.

In a report released a month ago, the Maryland PSC said that because Maryland uses more electricity than it generates, efforts to conserve energy are critical.

The report said shortages could force mandatory usage restrictions such as rolling blackouts by 2011 or 2012.

"The plan was originally to have them sent out in November," Meyers said of the energy-saving bulbs. Problems with the supplier ? Niagara Conservation ? caused the delays, which pushed the deliveries into the Christmas season.

"We weren't trying to create any work for anyone," Meyers said. "And we never planned to hit crunch time" at the post offices.

Meyers said the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

"Each bulb will save $1 a month for each customer and should last approximately seven years," Meyers said.

Inside the box is a message from Allegheny Power President David Flitman hailing the utility's part in a nationwide effort to eliminate energy waste by promoting efficient products.

Also included is a two-page instruction guide that explains that the new bulbs contain mercury. Instructions for safe handling and disposal are included.

As far as Allegheny's future plans to distribute the light bulbs in the other states it serves, Meyers said approval would have to be obtained from public service commissioners in those states.

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