There’s another thing in life that’s as sure as death and taxes; if politicians find out that people are angry about an issue, they swoop in like superheroes to declare they will save the day. When they do that, I suggest that rather than letting out a cheer, you tug on their capes and ask them, “What exactly are you going to do?” I’m reminded of this truism in light of the recent controversy over the utility bills charged to customers of Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE) in Chesapeake Beach & North Beach. The angry town hall meeting held in North Beach a few weeks ago was attended by several elected officials, including Senator Mike Miller and Delegate Sue Kullen, both of whom essentially declared that BGE would be held accountable and this travesty would not stand.
Great sound bites, to be sure, but is there substance behind them? All the politicians’ statements I’ve read suggest the blame for this debacle falls solely on the shoulders of BGE. Forgive me but I’m a skeptic, especially since the same man who is now threatening to re-regulate the utility companies led the charge to deregulate them in 1999, declaring “Prices will go down, no ifs, ands or buts.”
They didn’t go down, but not because deregulation was a flawed concept. It was the state government freezing rates at below-market levels for six years, creating a false sense of security among customers and a disincentive for other power companies to come into the state and compete because they couldn’t match the fixed rates offered by BGE and others. BGE struggled with the fixed rates themselves because energy costs were rising even while they were forced to keep their rates artificially low. As soon as the rate freeze lifted, they announced plans to raise rates by 72 percent to reflect current market energy costs.
What was our esteemed delegation’s reaction? Blame someone else! They along with Martin O’Malley used it as an election-year ploy to bludgeon then-Governor Ehrlich for the bad outcome of a policy they enacted three years before Ehrlich even ran for Governor. Unfortunately, they counted on the short memories of the voters to pull off this particularly audacious lie and they succeeded. Once in office, however, O’Malley’s promise to stop the rate increase hit a wall when his newly appointed Public Services Commission (PSC) concluded there was nothing they could do to halt the increase. They’ve been putting band-aids on the situation since then.
With this history, my suggestion to the people of the Beaches is this: be a skeptic. When a politician bloviates in faux outrage and declares sympathy with your cause, look for the person behind the curtain and ask them exactly what they’re going to do to relieve your burden. Are they going to tame the global energy market overnight? Discover an amazing new way to produce cheaper energy between now and your next electricity bill? Build several new power plants at light speed?
My point is the only way government can lower your electricity bills is by forcing BGE to lower its rates regardless of what they pay for energy, or issuing rebates so citizens get money back. Either way, it’s not going to be painless, particularly in these tough economic times. By all means, investigate BGE to ensure they aren’t charging their customers excessively for the energy they’ve purchased. Beyond that, our politicians have no super powers and are at the mercy of the world energy marketplace. Don’t expect a solution overnight, and take it upon yourself to conserve as much as possible to lower your bill. At least that’s something you have the power to do for yourself.