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Four speak against proposed electric rate increase in Williamsport

December 20, 2011|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT — Concerned about town spending practices and the need to be sensitive to the plight of people on fixed incomes, four people spoke out Tuesday night against a Williamsport proposal to raise retail electricity rates by 9.91 percent for utility customers.

The residents spoke during a public hearing at Williamsport Town Hall before a chief utility law judge for the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Despite the proposed increase, customers’ overall electric rate would still decrease about 2 percent because the town received a cut in its wholesale rate — the rate the town pays to buy power for its customers — that is larger than the proposed rate hike.

George Groff of Williamsport told PSC Chief Utility Judge Terry Romine that he does not understand why the town needs to seek a 9.91 percent rate hike, proposing instead that it cut the proposal by 50 percent so residents would get more of a break on their bills.

Resident Chris Grimes also raised concerns about how the town has spent about $39,000 this year in consulting fees regarding its electric service.  

Grimes noted that there is a petition containing names of local residents who are opposed to the rate hike. The petition, which Groff said contained more than 100 signatures, was turned over to Romine.

Former Williamsport town Councilman Earle Pereschuk said there are many elderly people in town who would be hurt by the rate increase.

Doug Kirby, another opponent of the rate hike, questioned the town’s management of the electric system, calling attention to $350,000 it spent to renovate the Barn at Springfield Farm. The barn is rented out for functions.

“We don’t even know how much money they bring in on the barn, or whatever they call it,” Kirby said.

A fact sheet provided by Williamsport officials at the hearing said the town has not increased its electric rates in more than 32 years and has posted losses in its electrical system in the last three years.

In an evidentiary hearing last week in Baltimore before Romine, a witness testifying on behalf of the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel said a significant rate adjustment is appropriate for Williamsport.

But the $173,815 the town would receive annually through the rate hike is excessive, said David E. Peterson, who has analyzed rate-making involving electric utilities.

Peterson said he believes the town should get no more than $133,625 a year through a rate increase.

Romine said she will make a decision on the rate hike by Feb. 24. The decision can be appealed to the full PSC within 30 days after the decision, she said.

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