BGE to ask for a rate increase soon

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. expects to ask for a rate increase within the next two months, less than half a year after it won approval for its last one.

The plans were disclosed Wednesday during parent Exelon Corp.'s earnings call with analysts. Chicago-based Exelon said BGE would file its request by the end of June.

The Maryland Public Service Commission approved BGE's most recent distribution-rate request in February, though not at the level the company had asked for. The regulatory agency said the average residential electricity consumer would pay an extra $3.33 a month and the average residential gas customer would pay an additional $2.70 a month.

"We're optimistic that we can build upon the constructive outcome from the last rate case," Jonathan W. Thayer, Exelon's chief financial officer, told analysts Wednesday.

Rate cases stretch over a seven-month period to give customers and advocates time to weigh in — BGE filed its last request in late July. A new request this June would affect rates early next year, if an increase is approved.

BGE spokesman Robert L. Gould said he could offer no details about the coming request, except that it would be a traditional rate case — not a natural-gas surcharge to fund infrastructure replacements. BGE also expects to file for that surcharge in the near term.

Hank Greenberg, state director for AARP Maryland, which represents the interests of older residents, blasted BGE for contemplating another rate increase so soon — about two months after gaining approval for the last one.

He said BGE could cheaply borrow money if it needed it, given the low interest rate environment, rather than "continue to reach into the pockets of ratepayers."

"They haven't shown that they've done anything with the money they already have — as a result of the last increase — that benefits consumers," Greenberg said.

Maryland consumer advocates have warned customers to expect more frequent rate-increase requests, based on utility filings in the recent past.

Five major utilities in Maryland are either pursuing increases or — in BGE's case — soon will, said Paula M. Carmody, head of the state Office of People's Counsel. Among them is Pepco, in the midst of its third Maryland rate case in 31/2 years.

"I don't know what BGE is going to do, but most of these are being driven by increases in reliability-related expenses — infrastructure," said Carmody, whose office represents residential utility customers. "We will do whatever we can … when these filings come in to make sure we can hold down the rate increases to the least amount — the least amount while ensuring reliable service."

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jsmithhopkins

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