OPC celebrates 100 years

Heat Pump

Our People's Counsel reflects on OPC's history and looks to the future

When the Maryland General Assembly created the People’s Counsel in 1924, only about half of American homes had electricity, few Maryland households had refrigerators, and it would be decades before air conditioners, color TVs, and internet service were commonplace in Marylanders’ homes. As the first consumer advocate office in the nation, the Maryland People’s Counsel’s early work focused as much on monopolies over streetcars and toll bridges as it did electric and gas utilities.

Much has changed over the last 100 years, as countless public servants at OPC have dedicated their careers to the noble work of holding public utility monopolies accountable to Maryland residents. Today, we no longer have streetcars to regulate, competitive markets have replaced regulation for most telecommunications, and OPC’s work involves technologies and issues that would have been fodder for science fiction in 1924.

Yet OPC’s work is fundamentally the same. Customers depend on utilities for vital services, and it remains important for utility investors to be treated fairly so they make the capital investments needed to serve customers. But utilities remain government-sanctioned monopolies, and captive residential customers continue to be vulnerable. Insulated from competition, utilities will elevate their private economic interests over the public interest when given the opportunity—just like they did 100 years ago. That means overcharging customers, favoring the most capital-intensive and profitable solutions, and otherwise squeezing customers who have no alternatives. As in the 1920s, transparency into utility costs and plans remains a significant regulatory challenge, and utility holding companies take advantage of corporate structures to evade state and federal regulatory scrutiny.

The stakes today are as high as ever. Along with the rest of the world, Maryland is facing a climate crisis driven by fossil fuel consumption—with massive implications for Maryland’s utility customers, especially lower-income Marylanders already feeling the brunt of large increases in utility rates. As the State implements policies intended to advance State climate goals, OPC will be working hard to make sure those policies are effectively advanced at the lowest customer cost. And we will continue trying to fix the regulatory inertia that allows utilities to spend $700 million annually for fossil fuel infrastructure that is heading toward dinosaur status.

In 2024, with new responsibilities on top of old, the OPC team continues to tirelessly advocate for Maryland’s residential customers. As we move into our second century, we will strive to work for our vision of a future in which all Maryland residents have safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable utility services. We do that work in a manner consistent with our values of integrity, respect, excellence, diligence, and transparency—all while making the most of our resources and striving for a fulfilling workplace for staff. We celebrate our 100 years knowing that our work is a process—not an end result—that will continue for many decades to come. We are humbled by the opportunity and take pride in our evolving and critically important efforts to advocate on behalf of Maryland’s residential customers.

David S. Lapp
Maryland People’s Counsel