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O'Malley powers up light-bulb protest bill

April 25, 2008|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A bill aimed at Maryland utilities that charge customers for energy-saving measures was signed into law Thursday, capping a heated protest over Allegheny Power's light-bulb distribution.

Gov. Martin O'Malley signed the bill Thursday; it takes effect right away.

Utilities must tell customers, through bill inserts and Web-site notices, how much they are being billed for energy-saving programs.

The most stringent component of the bill - customers would have to approve charges before paying them - was removed early on, but Del. Kevin Kelly, D-Allegany, said the result still was meaningful.

Allegheny and the Maryland Public Service Commission were flooded with complaints from people who thought the energy-saving bulbs were free, only to learn they were being charged 96 cents per month for 12 months, or $11.52.

"That's what really inflamed them," Kelly said by phone Thursday.

Backlash soared after a Jan. 7 story in The Herald-Mail pointed out the surcharge. Outraged lawmakers and customers said they hadn't known about the surcharge, which went into effect in October.

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In September, the PSC gave fast-track approval to Allegheny Power's compact fluorescent light-bulb distribution to about 220,000 residential customers in Maryland.

After a lengthy grilling by PSC commission members on how the program was carried out, Allegheny officials apologized and promised to refund customers' money. The roughly $2.5 million cost of the program would be absorbed by shareholders.

The PSC approved the refund plan March 19.

On Thursday, Allegheny spokesman Allen Staggers said the credit will show up on bills that customers receive this month. It will be labeled "compact fluorescent light bulb refund."

Staggers said Kelly's bill, which passed the House 138-1 and the Senate 45-0, speaks for itself; he declined to comment further.

If Allegheny tries another energy-conservation program, "clear communications" will be part of it, he said.

Other bills

O'Malley also signed the following bills that had local sponsors Thursday, according to the governor's office:

  • After a local government has achieved its recreation and open-space acreage acquisition goals, it may spend up to 100 percent of its Program Open Space funding on development projects, rather than 75 percent. (Co-sponsored by Sen. George C. Edwards, R-Garrett/Allegany/Washington)

  • Clinical labs and physicians that provide anatomic pathology services will get help getting reimbursement (Sponsored by Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington)

  • Washington County will set regulations for examining and licensing electricians. (Sponsored by Washington County delegation)

  • Washington County can require that sidewalks along public streets be maintained, except in incorporated municipalities, and may require that snow and ice be removed from sidewalks. (Sponsored by Washington County delegation)

  • The requirements are altered for respiratory care practitioners, radiation therapists, radiographers and nuclear medicine technologists. (Sponsored by Donoghue)

  • The state will have a Clean Energy Center, an information clearinghouse that U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., wanted. (Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, sponsored this bill in the Senate, but it didn't pass. O'Malley signed the House version, which passed.)
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