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Md. regulators summon Allegheny Power to discuss controversial light-bulb distribution

January 09, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

ANNAPOLIS ? The state Public Service Commission has summoned Allegheny Power to talk next week over a light-bulb distribution that has generated backlash.

In Annapolis, two angry state lawmakers, including one from Washington County, said they'll introduce bills aimed at the distribution, which they called misleading.

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, said he's considering a bill to force Allegheny Power to refund the charge connected to the light bulbs.

He said he, like many others, assumed the bulbs were free and was "livid" when he read a Herald-Mail story Monday that said Allegheny was charging customers.

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Allegheny Power mailed two fluorescent bulbs apiece to its 220,000 residential customers in Maryland as a conservation measure. The bills are said to use 75 percent less energy.

Allegheny spokesman Todd Meyers said the electric company notified customers on their October bills of an "energy conservation surcharge" starting Oct. 3.

Allegheny is billing each customer $11.52 through a 96-cents-per-month surcharge for a two-bulb package.

He said the company didn't specifically tell customers that the charge was connected to the light bulbs.

The bulb packages, which didn't mention the $11.52 charge, were mailed separately in December, reaching many customers around Christmas. Postal officials in Washington County said the bulb delivery created logistical hassles during a busy holiday period.

The Public Service Commission approved an Allegheny filing about the light-bulb distribution Sept. 26 and still backs it, but isn't satisfied with how it was carried out, PSC spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards said.

"The Public Service Commission wanted Allegheny to let their customers know about the light bulbs, as well as the surcharge," she said. "That is a definite."

The PSC has scheduled a meeting with Allegheny about the light bulbs Wednesday, Edwards said. It will be a public meeting at PSC headquarters in Baltimore.

Meanwhile, in Annapolis, Shank and Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, have pledged to file bills protesting the bulb distribution.

Kelly said his bill, which is being drafted by the Department of Legislative Services, would prevent the PSC from approving a distribution like that again.

In his district, "people are livid and they should be...," Kelly said. "I'll bet 99 percent thought it was free."

Shank said he's thinking about a separate bill forcing Allegheny to refund the charge, but he might work with Kelly or other Western Maryland legislators to create a single bill.

Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington, said he's gotten about a half-dozen complaints about the bulbs.

Shank said he's received about two dozen complaints.

"They are outraged that Allegheny Power would be so duplicitous," he said.

Meyers declined to comment on the possible bills, but said Allegheny accepts that it could have done the distribution better.

He said "there might have been an oversight" in not clearly linking the surcharge to the light bulbs.

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