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Lawmaker: Don't repeat light-bulb fiasco

Hearing held on bill to outlaw future energy-conservation efforts like Allegheny Power's

Hearing held on bill to outlaw future energy-conservation efforts like Allegheny Power's

February 20, 2008|By ANDREWS

ANNAPOLIS - A Western Maryland delegate steamed about a failed light-bulb promotion lobbied Tuesday to outlaw future energy-conservation efforts that leave customers in the dark.

Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, testified for his bill to prohibit the Maryland Public Service Commission from approving any effort like one that went sour for Allegheny Power.

He said customers who thought they were getting free light bulbs were "absolutely livid" when they found out they were being charged.

Some people worried about the effect Kelly's bill would have on energy-saving measures testified against it before the House Economic Matters Committee.

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Johanna Neumann of the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit organization, called Allegheny's bulb distribution "extremely poorly administered," but said Kelly's idea would "kill" other worthwhile efforts.

Representatives from utilities, the PSC and the Office of People's Counsel, a utility advocate for the public, also urged that the bill be defeated, saying it would thwart meaningful conservation.

However, the Consumer Protection Division of the state attorney general's came out in favor of it.

Gov. Martin O'Malley has called for the state to work on energy efficiency measures to reduce projected electricity demands. Otherwise, outages are possible.

Last year, Allegheny Power mailed two-bulb packages to all of its roughly 220,000 residential customers in Maryland.

The fluorescent bulbs are said to be energy efficient and would save customers money, over time.

However, when a Herald-Mail story in January pointed out that Allegheny was charging each customer $11.52 for the bulb program, customers and lawmakers reacted angrily.

The PSC approved the conservation program in September. But, at a hearing in Baltimore in January after the distribution went awry, PSC members chastised Allegheny, alleging the utility botched the program, particularly by not clearly explaining the surcharge to customers.

Allegheny agreed that its shareholders would eat the cost of the $2.5 million program and customers wouldn't be charged. It has apologized for its handling of the distribution.

With that backdrop, Kelly urged the Economic Matters Committee on Tuesday to add a legislative safeguard.

He said other utilities in the state have rolled out similar efficiency programs, by sending redeemable coupons instead of the bulbs themselves.

His bill requires utilities to get customers' written approval before charging them for an energy-saving product or service, but Kelly said he's willing to amend the bill to simply require notification.

He also is calling for refunds going back to Sept. 1, 2007, for any energy conservation surcharge that was not authorized in writing by a customer.

Del. Warren E. Miller, R-Howard, a member of the Economic Matters Committee, said he supports the bill.

"You shouldn't send something to somebody's home they're not going to use," he said.




To read the bill:

Go to www.mlis.state.md.us/2008rs/billfile/hb0608.htm

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