Cumberland Times-News

January 11, 2008

PSC summons Allegheny Power to public meeting

Kevin Spradlin

CUMBERLAND - The Maryland Public Service Commission, which authorized Allegheny Power to mail energy-efficient light bulbs to its 220,000 Maryland customers, has ordered the power company to attend a public meeting on the matter.

The administrative meeting is scheduled Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the William Donald Schaefer Tower, 6 St. Paul St. in Baltimore in the 16th-floor hearing room.

But Delegate Kevin Kelly believes that stronger action should be taken and is calling for the removal of the members of the PSC.

"What Allegheny Power did, this whole scheme, it's a deception," Kelly said. "The fact that the Public Service Commission sanctioned this deceitful act leads me to believe that this Public Service Commission, like the last one, should be removed."

Kelly said the members of the PSC lack the integrity to be protectors of the public. "They simply abdicated their responsibility to the public," he said.

Allegheny Power recently sent packs of two 13-watt, compact fluorescent lamp bulbs for which it is charging 12 monthly installments of 96 cents each as an environmental surcharge.

When Westernport resident Sandie Lupis called Allegheny Power's customer service center Thursday, she said she was told the bulbs were free. She, and the other 219,999 customers, are paying for an education program to teach power customers how to conserve energy, a customer representative told her.

"It is not clear Allegheny conducted an effective program to explain the issues around the CFL program," according to a PSC fact sheet released Thursday. "In addition, we have received complaints suggesting that the program may not have been implemented as it should have been and that the company's customer service representatives were not equipped to answer questions" about the program.

The bulbs, commonly called CFLs, are said to use nearly 75 percent less electricity and "are the single most cost-effective and simple way to reduce energy consumption," the PSC said.

"Simply by using CFLs, especially in high-use lighting applications, customers experience energy savings that offset the cost of the CFL program and achieve very real savings on their electricity bill," the PSC stated.

The PSC approved Allegheny Power's "energy efficiency" direct-mail initiative Sept. 26 with an implementation date of Oct. 3. Customers began receiving the bulbs in late December.

The direct-mail campaign is seen as more cost-effective than a program operated by Baltimore Gas & Electric, in which customers buy the CFLs at a discount using a utility-operated rebate program.

"Because it placed more CFLs into the hands of customers, the program was seen by the PSC as extremely cost-effective," the PSC said.

The program, no matter its intent, has sparked a community backlash in Western Maryland. Kelly is seeking to submit a bill that would prohibit companies from sending customers unsolicited items and charging them for it. Washington County Delegate Christopher B. Shank is considering a bill that would force the electric company to refund the environmental surcharge related to the light bulbs.

For more information, contact the Maryland Public Service Commission at (800) 492-0474.

Contact Kevin Spradlin at kspradlin@times-news.com.