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Legislation – State – Current Legislation Issues

2014 General Assembly Session

The 2014 General Assembly session was not as busy as prior years for bills affecting Maryland's residential utility customers.  OPC reviewed all of the energy, telecommunication, consumer and environmental bill to determine if they had any major affect--positive or negative--on residential utility customers.  

During the 90 day session we testified on several bills related to telephone service, energy suppliers, smart meters (AMI), the renewable portfolio standard (RPS), net energy metering, and transportation.  

You can Link to all OPC 2014 written testimony, as well as our testimony in years 2009 through 2013

Most of the bills of importance to residential consumers fell into one of several categories:

Electric Retail Suppliers--Consumer Protection Issues

PASSED.  OPC supported Senate Bill 1044/House Bill 928 (Ch.77), which were passed by both Houses and approved by the Governor on April 8, 2014.  The bills require the Public Service Commission to convene a workgroup and issue a report to the General Assembly on the PSC’s efforts to provide appropriate protections for consumers in connection with retail energy suppliers, and with recommendations on how to better protect consumers. In testimony, OPC highlighted the recent experiences of residential consumers with variable rate supplier contracts. These consumers saw increases in electricity supplier costs 2 to 4 times the rate charged by their utilities for electricity this winter, resulting in high bills.

FAILED.  Senate Bill 1115/House Bill 894 provided certainty to utility customers approached by retail energy suppliers, by explicating requiring suppliers to get written permission from customers prior to switching service. OPC had supported the bills, since they would have provided additional clarity about written consent requirements for any supplier contract. The bills received unfavorable reports in both Senate and House Committees after hearing testimony that they were not necessary. The PSC recently issued an order in PSC Case No. 9340 (Investigation of Starion Energy), which agreed with OPC and affirmed that the State’s Door to Door Sales Act and Telephone Solicitation Act requirements apply to suppliers. These laws have written contract and signature requirements.

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Renewable Energy and Distributed Energy--Net Energy Metering

FAILED.  Senate Bill 733/House Bill 1149 would have increased the State’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) from 20% in 2022 to 40% , and increasing the solar energy percentage. OPC opposed the bills because the current RPS is working well, and the proposed increase could have real impacts on supply prices paid by consumers. The bills did not receive a vote in the House and Senate Committees, and died.

FAILED.  Two sets of bills were introduced that relate to distributed generation and net energy metering. Senate Bill 521/House Bill 1076 would have established a Poultry Litter Energy-Generating Cooperative Program as a distributed energy program using poultry litter, and permitting utility customers to purchase subscriptions and obtain a credit offset to their own actual energy usage, and potential net energy metering payments. The program was proposed as a way to help reduce Chesapeake Bay pollution, provide assistance to farmers and support the development of distributed generation. OPC supported the bills, but only with significant amendments to change the structure of oversight and administration of the program, and to ensure that the PSC retained authority to set appropriate rates for these programs, in lieu of the proposed statutory rate. The House passed heavily amended versions of the House and Senate Bills. These effectively transformed the bill into an Energy-Generating Cooperative Advisory Committee to evaluate the use of poultry litter as a means to reduce Bay pollution and air emissions, identify alternative funding sources and consider appropriate tariff structures. The Senate passed a different version, having adopted a more restrictive set of amendments. In the end, no bills were accepted by both Houses.

FAILED.  We also saw the return of bills to establish a Community Renewable Energy Generating System Pilot Program. Senate Bill 786/House Bill 1192 would have established a 3-year pilot program for a community distributed generation (DG) system, which would allow utility customers to purchase subscriptions and obtain a credit offset to their own actual usage, and potential net energy metering payments. The bills were proposed as a way to permit a broader inclusion of customers, including how income households and customers unable to install DG, in the net metering program. OPC supported the bills, but only with amendments to address rate issues related to the program. Similar bills (SB699/HB1128), but with different provisions, were introduced in 2013; the Senate Bill received an unfavorable report and there was no Committee vote on the House version that year. The 2014 bills received a similar fate, with an unfavorable report in the House Committee, and no vote in the Senate Committee.

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Telecommunications

FAILED.  OPC supported two bills because of their benefits to telephone customers. House Bill 788 (no cross-file) would have put restrictions on 3rd party vendor billing by cell phone (wireless) companies. OPC supported the bill because of the extensive problem nationwide with “cramming” of unauthorized charges on customer wireless phone bills. OPC, through its national organization, has filed extensive comments on this problem with the FCC. On a WYPR (Dan Rodricks) program on mobile cramming, the People’s Counsel engaged a number of customers who experienced these problems. Unfortunately, the bill received an unfavorable report in Committee.

FAILED.  Senate Bill 343/House Bill 447 would have placed a temporary moratorium on the local telephone companies’ (effectively, Verizon) from replacing existing wireline service with a certain wireless phone service (i.e., VoiceLink) until a certain study and report was done by the Commission. OPC supported these bills because they provided a “time out” to ensure that currently regulated wireline services is not replaced with a wireless service that is unregulated and does not provide comparable service to customers. The bill received an unfavorable report in the House Committee, with no vote in the Senate. The telephone company representatives testified that they had no plan for such replacement, while the PSC Chair testified that under current rules, Verizon could not permanently replace the existing wireline service with VoiceLink.

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Smart Meters

FAILED. A number of bills were introduced this session related to the deployment of smart meters by electric companies. The focus of most bills was on codifying the PSC’s decision to permit customers to “opt out” of the smart meter installations, and prohibiting assessment of fees to cover the costs of maintaining this parallel system. Certain bills also would have prohibited electric companies from disclosing energy usage data to third parties without the customer’s permission. OPC supported Senate Bill 280/House Bill 331, the bills prohibiting disclosure of energy usage data. OPC has been a strong voice on protecting the customer’s right to control release of their utility information to third parties. Unfortunately, the House version received an unfavorable Committee vote, and there was no vote by the Senate Committee. 

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Transportation Services

FAILED. During the past several months, Maryland has seen the introduction of new “transportation services.”  These services, including some known as Uberx and Lyft, connect drivers and passengers with the use of mobile apps, and have been operating without PSC oversight or licensing of the drivers.   OPC had filed a Petition for a Cease and Desist Order against these two known companies in the fall of 2013, which is pending before the PSC, and which prompted the introduction of Senate Bill 919/House Bill 1160.  These bills would have created a new category of transportation service for these companies and drivers, and effectively treat them differently from existing sedan services.  OPC opposed these bills because of public safety concerns, including the lack of PSC oversight; lack of licensing of the drivers, and concerns about the availability of insurance protection to drivers, passengers and members of the public as a result of accidents or other incidents.  The House bill received an unfavorable report in Committee; there was no vote in the Senate committee.

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