In the corridors of legislative power in Maryland, a bill looms large, bearing the ominous moniker Senate Bill 1 / House Bill 267. This legislative concoction threatens to strip away the cherished right of choice from Maryland’s electricity and natural gas consumers. The intended consequence? Cementing the dominion of utility monopolies while muffling the voice of the customer.
Baltimore Gas and Electric, among others, wields an iron grip over the market, a fact that evokes the ire of many consumers. Despite fervent opposition, BGE’s petition for a staggering three-year, $408 million rate hike found favor in December. If permitted, this would culminate in a jaw-dropping 30% monthly rate increase this year. Such unchecked control, it is plain to see, bodes ill for the ratepayers.
Cast your mind back to 1999 when Maryland’s lawmakers, in a gesture towards fostering consumer choice, ushered in legislation aimed at broadening the array of electricity options available. Yet, despite the ostensible diversity promised, the tentacles of utility monopolies still ensnare a staggering 80% of residential customers, leaving the notion of choice a mere chimera for many.
Advocates of Senate Bill 1 / House Bill 267, like former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening, tout its virtues in a recent online news publication, alleging that retail energy suppliers have raked in undue profits at the expense of the consumer. However, this narrative conveniently sidesteps the elephant in the room – the exorbitant profits amassed by utility monopolies, which then find their way into the coffers of organizations like “Power for Tomorrow,” serving as a haven for erstwhile regulators and governors in their advocacy pursuits.
A damning report from The Energy and Policy Institute unmasks the opaque machinations of Power for Tomorrow, revealing its aversion to any attempts at fostering competition in the utility sector. Under the guise of consumer advocacy, this Arlington-based cabal furtively advances the interests of corporate behemoths.
The former champion of consumer choice, Governor Glendening, merits accolades for his role in shepherding the Electric Customer Choice and Competition Act of 1999 into existence. However, his dalliance with Power for Tomorrow warrants scrutiny, exposing the veritable collusion between regulated utility monopolies and those ostensibly tasked with safeguarding consumer interests.
SB 1 stands poised to usher in a new era of monopoly hegemony under the pretense of consumer protection—a wolf in sheep’s clothing if ever there was one. Let it be known: the erosion of the competitive market is no panacea. I urge you to wield your voice and preserve your choice, lest the specter of utility monopolies cast its suffocating shadow over the landscape of consumer rights.
Clayton A. Mitchell, Sr. is an attorney who resides on the Eastern Shore