Think smart meters are just about efficient tracking of energy consumption? REALLY? Peak times are as clear as day so we already know when most people use energy the most. So why does Exelon/BGE and O'Malley want to know how you use your energy? Now that BGE has merged with a national energy corporation with ever-growing monopoly hold on energy distribution it is time to maximize profits and that means rates that go as high as the market bears and then some. That is why utilities should be public after all! Do you know that the subsidy for people who are too poor to pay can and will go away at any time and the number of people in the US impoverished is at a historical high? What happens when that government subsidy is defunded? That's right...rationed energy just as in third world countries. So, if you can only pay for 3 hours of energy that is all you will get. These smart meters will monitor that.
Utilities propose charges to opt out of smart meter Estimates don't pass the 'straight-face test,' opponent says
By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun 6:28 p.m. EDT, August 5, 2013
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and other utilities in Maryland will make the case to state regulators Tuesday that customers who don't want smart meters should pay an upfront charge and a monthly fee — anywhere from $15 to $87 — to opt out.
Smart-meter opponents are ready to argue that those proposed charges are unreasonably high, considering the costs utilities have borne so far from customers deferring meter installations.
"It doesn't pass the straight-face test," said Jonathan D. Libber, president of Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, which opposes the technology.
It's the latest skirmish in the continuing battle over smart meters, which send energy-use data to utilities wirelessly.
Utilities say the meters save money because they don't have to be read in person, like old-style analog meters, and also allow employees to pinpoint outages faster. Opponents, here and across the country, have health, privacy and other concerns about meters, and they say they shouldn't have a product forced on them.
Customers are allowed to temporarily defer the meters without cost while Maryland's Public Service Commission decides whether to permit a permanent opt out. Commissioners said in January that an alternative — either old-style meters or the option of a smart meter with no or lower levels of radio frequency emissions — would come with charges.
"Whichever option we ultimately choose, we will require those ratepayers that exercise the option to bear appropriate costs," the commissioners wrote.
Smart meters give off radio frequency emissions, a type of radiation also emitted by cellphones. Utilities argue that the meters' emissions are safe, and the commission said it found no "convincing evidence" to the contrary. Smart-meter opponents, pointing to the emissions' classification as possibly carcinogenic, contend they're dangerous.
Both the utilities and the opponents seem to agree on one point: Going with smart meters configured to emit no or lower levels of radio frequency — for instance, by installing a phone jack so the meter doesn't need to communicate its data wirelessly — isn't the right alternative.
Maryland Smart Meter Awareness says customers would have to continually monitor such meters to ensure they weren't emitting radiation. And utilities say the costs are prohibitive.
That would leave existing analog and digital meters as the alternative. BGE is asking to charge an initial fee of $100 — largely to recover administrative and IT system costs — and a monthly fee of $15.
As BGE officials are quick to point out, that charge is the lowest proposed among utilities installing or planning to install smart meters in Maryland.
Pepco and Delmarva Power & Light Co., which have the same parent, proposed a $100 upfront fee and a monthly charge between $50 and $87, depending on the total number of customers opting out. Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative also offered a range of charges depending on participation — about $71 to $105 upfront, and roughly $30 to $35 a month.
Costs range widely in states with the option to forgo a smart meter. Some utilities charge a monthly fee of $10 or less — in California and Nevada, for example — while Portland General Electric in Oregon charges $51. Vermont consumers can opt out for free.
Libber, with Maryland Smart Meter Awareness, said it's simply too early for regulators to determine a fair charge because utilities' "very large" proposed fees are based on cost estimates. The hard numbers from BGE, tracking installation expenses through March, show "virtually no extra costs for accommodating the opt out ratepayers," Libber said in a filing to regulators.
He said he's concerned utilities want to press people into accepting smart meters by making it too costly to do otherwise.
"They obviously know the higher the expense for the opt out, the fewer people will opt out," Libber said.
Mark D. Case, vice president of strategy and regulatory affairs at BGE, said the company took a "fairly conservative approach" to estimating additional costs. The reason the utility hasn't incurred substantial expenses yet is that more costly work such as modifying the billing system is either just now underway or hasn't begun, officials said.
Maryland regulators told utilities that they may not seek to recover smart-meter installation costs until the work is done and they can show the benefits to customers make it worthwhile. Libber said those who opt out should likewise not be charged extra until utilities make that case — if they can make it, he added.
BGE officials say they believe more customers will see the value of smart meters as more of that network goes in. The utility has installed about 550,000 meters and is on track to finish by the end of next year.
THIS IS HAPPENING ALL ACROSS THE COUNTRY....ENERGY/UTILITIES ARE BEING CENTRALIZED AND RATES ARE MAXIMIZING CORPORATE PROFITS!
BGE's is the first such request in Maryland since a new law took effect in June allowing for gas surcharges. Critics worry that allowing surcharges will make it easier for utilities to prevail in such cases. BGE's net income in the three months ending in June was $22 million — nearly 70 percent more than it was a year earlier. Parent Exelon Corp. said the increase was "primarily due to higher electric and gas distribution rates."
"That's remarkable," AARP's Greenberg said. "And they can thank their customers for that."
BGE asks for monthly gas-bill surcharge Fee requested for gas pipe replacement would start at 32 cents a month for residential customers, $1.87 a month for businesses
By Jamie Smith Hopkins, The Baltimore Sun 8:16 p.m. EDT, August 2, 2013
Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. asked Friday for a monthly surcharge on gas customers to cover part of the cost of replacing old pipes, a request that comes in addition to the rate increase and electric surcharge it is seeking.
BGE said it asked state regulators for permission to charge residential gas customers 32 cents a month and business customers $1.87 a month, starting in February.
The utility intends to ask for higher monthly surcharges in each of the following four years — effectively topping out at $2 for residents and $11.55 for businesses, though some of that amount ultimately could be pushed into base rates. Those amounts are the maximum that utilities can request.
BGE's is the first such request in Maryland since a new law took effect in June allowing for gas surcharges. Critics worry that allowing surcharges will make it easier for utilities to prevail in such cases.
BGE officials said they need a surcharge to pay for part of about $400 million they plan to spend in the next five years to replace old and leaky pipes — including cast-iron ones installed as far back as the early 1900s.
"We feel very confident that we operate a safe and reliable gas system today but that we need to increase the level of investment," said Rob Biagiotti, BGE's vice president of gas distribution.
BGE officials argue that they can more easily and cost-effectively accelerate infrastructure work if they get some money flowing in from the start, rather than waiting for state regulators to allow reimbursement afterward.
But opponents of surcharges contend the fees increase the chances that consumers will overpay. Utilities aren't subject to the same level of profit and expense scrutiny in a surcharge case as in a rate case, when all financials are on the table.
"I understand why it's cost-effective for the utility because they basically get a separate income stream," said Hank Greenberg, director of AARP Maryland, which advocates for the interests of older residents. "It is not cost effective for the consumer."
He and other advocates, including the state Office of People's Counsel, worry that surcharges — sometimes called trackers — are poised to multiply.
State legislators sent a supportive signal about gas surcharges when they approved the utility-backed legislation this year, aimed at accelerating pipeline replacement. Gov. Martin O'Malley's grid reliability task force, convened last year after high-outage storms, recommended surcharges to pay for a faster pace of electrical upgrades.
And last month, Maryland's Public Service Commission approved the first-ever infrastructure surcharge, a portion of what Pepco requested for electrical grid work in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. The majority of commissioners said a "properly defined" surcharge can be appropriate to improve customer reliability, but one commissioner warned of the precedent.
"Today we are letting the tracker genie out of the bottle, and I fear it will continue granting the wishes of Maryland utilities for many years and we may never get it back in the bottle," said Commissioner Harold D. Williams, a former BGE official, in his dissenting opinion.
The fight is playing out against a backdrop of aging infrastructure. Maryland is behind only four states and the District of Columbia for the percentage of gas main miles made of cast and wrought iron. Utilities used those materials in the 19th century and the first few decades of the 20th, switching later to steel and plastic.
BGE said it was cost-effective for years to repair the older pipes when needed, but that's no longer true. Twenty percent of the utility's gas infrastructure accounts for more than 70 percent of leak repairs, Biagiotti said.
BGE plans to spend about $400 million in the next five years, double what it spent in the previous five, to replace pipes made of cast iron, copper, uncoated steel and even plastic in some cases. The utility wants to get $90 million of that amount through surcharges. BGE said it would request reimbursement for the rest of the work in a later rate case.
What customers pay in rates is based on the amount of electricity or gas they use. The gas surcharge would be a flat fee, with small businesses paying the same as big customers.
Ned Atwater, owner of the Atwater's restaurants in Baltimore and Baltimore County, said he'd prefer a charge that takes usage into account, but he thinks infrastructure replacement is worth paying for. He also thinks BGE should be willing to eat into profits to cover some of the needed work, in addition to asking customers to pay.
"We would be happy to chip in," he said. "We would be a lot happier about it if we would [also] see that from the other side."
BGE's request comes on the heels of its May request to increase monthly distribution rates — by $4.41 on the typical residential electric bill and $2.50 on the typical residential gas bill. BGE also asked for a five-year surcharge to accelerate work on electrical infrastructure. The typical residential charge would begin at about 34 cents a month.
The utility last received a rate increase in February, and it's feeling a boost as a result.
BGE's net income in the three months ending in June was $22 million — nearly 70 percent more than it was a year earlier. Parent Exelon Corp. said the increase was "primarily due to higher electric and gas distribution rates."
"That's remarkable," AARP's Greenberg said. "And they can thank their customers for that."
The Affordable Care Act was written to consolidate the health industry as bank deregulation created the big banks....just making global health systems for maximum profit. This is a market-based republican policy. The larger health insurance corporations like AETNA are already to go global and so will attach themselves to global corporations...private insurance plans that will be offered mostly to higher management...not everyday workers. Most people will indeed be pushed into these exchanges as will Medicare and Medicaid. The types of insurance offered on these exchanges will be preventative for the most part as that is all that individuals will be able to pay. The lower cost plans have high deductibles and co-pays that will severely limit access keeping the most in need of care from accessing but still calling them 'insured'.
This is not a democrat/republican issue. Republicans like this plan....they wrote it after all! They just don't want the safety net that is preventative care. Either way, only 10% of people will be able to access the level of care we all have experienced and health business profits will soar! The answer is indeed Universal Care as we need markets out of this vital public service!
Aetna pulls health plans from state insurance exchange Insurer says Md.-approved rates weren't feasible as it scrutinizes its offerings across the country
By Scott Dance, The Baltimore Sun 8:29 p.m. EDT, August 2, 2013
Aetna Inc. said Friday it canceled plans to sell insurance on Maryland's new health insurance exchange, set to open Oct. 1 as part of the federal health care reform law, after regulators cut the rates it could charge consumers for its plans.
Aetna was one of several carriers poised to sell on the state's exchange, along with Coventry Health Care, which Aetna acquired this spring. But Aetna told Maryland Insurance Commissioner Therese M. Goldsmith in a letter this week that cuts regulators made to the rates the companies had proposed "would not allow us to collect enough premiums to cover the cost of the plans."
The decision leaves the exchange with fewer choices for consumers who need to buy insurance, as required by the law, because they don't have it now or can't get it from their employer. But state officials said they don't expect the loss of Aetna and Coventry to significantly reduce consumers' options.
Officials hope the exchange will keep the cost of health insurance low for consumers with competition among the insurance carriers. And as more people enroll, costs are expected to decline.
"This is not a step that we take lightly," Aetna said in a statement. "We believe it is critical that our plans not only be competitive, but also financially viable, allowing Aetna and Coventry to meet the long-term needs of the Exchanges in which we choose to participate."
Aetna and Coventry combined insure 13,000 individual members in Maryland and 620,000 individuals nationwide. The decision does not affect coverage the insurers offer in the state through employers.
Aetna had filed a proposal with state insurance regulators to raise its rates 25.4 percent, the highest of any carrier. The rate the state approved July 26 was 29 percent lower than what Aetna sought, while other carriers saw their proposals cut back by as much as 33 percent.
State health officials estimate that 180,000 people will buy individual insurance policies from the exchange for 2014. They will largely come from the 146,078 Marylanders who currently buy in the individual market and from the estimated 740,000 uninsured people in the state.
Top state health insurance officials, including Goldsmith and Rebecca Pearce, executive director of the state exchange, Maryland Health Connection, said they were confident in the range of options that will be available on the exchange when it opens this fall. Coverage through the exchange becomes effective Jan. 1.
"Notwithstanding Aetna's business decision not to offer products in Maryland's individual insurance market, consumers will continue to have many choices among health insurance carriers and plan options when open enrollment begins in October," Goldsmith said in a statement.
Pearce added that the carriers' departure does not affect an analysis showing rates on Maryland's exchange to be competitive nationally.
"The rates are still the lowest in the country," Pearce said in an interview. "I believe the plans will be competitively priced and people will find something that's right for them."
Insurance officials do not expect any other carriers whose rates were approved to follow Aetna.
Aetna's decision came days after it pulled its and Coventry's plans from Georgia's exchange, and as its CEO expressed hesitation about participating in other exchanges around the country. The company pulled out of California's individual insurance market earlier this year.
In a quarterly earnings conference call, Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini said the company was cautious about the rollout of the exchanges and was considering whether to cut back on its participation in them in 14 states. The company, meanwhile, plans to participate in private exchanges being run by benefits companies and is working on launching its own exchange for Aetna products.
"We are continuing to evaluate where Aetna and Coventry have submitted bids and are in the process of rationalizing our combined exchange participation," Bertolini said.
Also Friday, Coventry pulled a dental plan to be offered on Maryland's exchange. That plan's rates had been approved without modification.
One other insurer, a new cooperative model, said it remains committed to Maryland's exchange.
"We are very much devoted to staying on the exchange. That's the mission for our entire insurance company in the first place," said Dr. Peter Beilenson, president and CEO of Evergreen Health Cooperative Inc., which formed in November and plans to offer two types of plans on the exchange.
Other insurers, including CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of the Mid-Atlantic States Inc., could not be reached for comment late Friday. Nine carriers in all had proposed plans for sale on the exchange, though they were represented by five owners.
Beilenson, the former health commissioner for Baltimore and more recently for Howard County, said it was unfortunate that Aetna decided to drop out. The point of the health care law is to increase competition so consumers have more choices and more affordable care, he said.
On the other hand, he noted, Aetna's action also means his new insurance company will have less competition.
Vincent DeMarco, president of the advocacy group Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, said Marylanders still will have plenty of choice within the exchange even without Aetna.
"There are seven carriers left providing a broad range of services, which we think are at reasonable rates, especially with the subsidy that the federal government is providing," he said. "Marylanders will be well-served."
DeMarco said he thought the commissioner did the right thing on setting rates.
"We wish as many as possible would have stayed," he said. "The point is the rates have to be fair for consumers. The commissioner came up with some fair rates."
Baltimore Sun reporter Eileen Ambrose and Reuters contributed to this article.
First we need to acknowledge that this high-speed rail has already been embraced by O'Malley and indeed money for its construction is why we have this large tax increase on gas. It will consume much of the Transportation Trust budget. Is high-speed rail an environmental issue or do the rich simply want elite transportation that most people will not be able to afford? Well, China and Japan have it they say. This is a neo-liberal policy that places appearance in the global community over what is best for the public. Is it greener than commuter trains like MARC? Of course not. This is not a green issue!
Republicans want everyone travelling in BOLT-style commuter buses which is no good either for those needing to get places faster and cheaper than flying. What we are seeing is all of transportation costs for the average person being made ever higher, limiting access and ability to travel. Whether higher gas prices to pay for transportation for the wealthy counties who travel around in electric/hybrids not paying much gas tax or Federal and State money to build this super fast train when Maryland's commuter trains are crowded and have lots of safety issues....this is not something any progressive would want. It will further privatize public transportation and give yet another public service over to market-based pricing!
High-speed rail would be better than a new Bay Bridge
12:00 p.m. EDT, August 6, 2013 Baltimore Sun
Having had the opportunity to attend the recent Maryland Climate Change Summit, it was both enlightening and reassuring that our governor, the legislature and our state agencies are taking proactive positions in planning for what cannot be stopped and a leadership role in reducing what is driving temperature increases so that future impacts may be constrained, primarily those of sea level rise and flooding.
With 3,200 miles of bay and ocean coastline, Maryland has already lost 13 islands, and as sea levels continue to rise, we will lose thousands more low lying acres over the next decade, including marshes, forests, farms and developed land.
That afternoon, traffic reports indicated that vehicles were already backed up at the Bay Bridge for the weekend run to the beach, and I was reminded of the May 26 article in The Sun, describing concerns of the current bridges' safety, costs and life expectancy. By 2025, increases of more than 40,00 Saturday, and 16,000 daily vehicles are expected. I couldn't help but envision all of those cars backed up at the tolls, spewing the very carbon dioxide responsible for most of the warming and resultant sea level rise that we are currently experiencing.
Many Eastern Shore residents are rightfully concerned about the developmental impact that would occur if a new bridge span were constructed, as some feel the need for.
It seems time to decouple ourselves from paradigms of the past. Decades ago, Walt Disney built a futuristic monorail as a demonstration of how people can be rapidly, comfortably and efficiently whisked to their destinations. Though the monorail has not been emulated in our cities, transit systems such as BART in San Francisco, the TriMet System in Portland, and totally computerized trains in places like Copenhagen are great examples of modern transit. The Baltimore light rail/metro system, is gradually moving toward regional continuity.
Might it not be time to establish a high speed transit link between the Western Shore and beach destinations that would eliminate excessive traffic, reduce gas consumption and carbon dioxide emissions, and save time, energy and frayed nerves? You could arrive at the shore refreshed, relaxed and ready to enjoy! Those who wish could still use the existing spans. It would be a win/win situation for both commuters and the businesses at the shore, increasing visits, both during the summer and through the rest of the year. The pressure would be off the road system, eliminating the need to pave more impervious surfaces and create more runoff. It is possible that in many places, existing rights-of-way could be used.
Visionary ideas drive innovation and can solve vexing problems. Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla and founder of SpaceX, is purported to be planning an ultra high speed, hyperloop rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Perhaps we could lure him to Maryland to develop a short-range prototype between our Eastern and Western Shores. If that is not an optimum application for the technology, there are many other manufacturers that could step up to the challenge.
Stan Kollar, Harford County
The writer is a biology professor at Harford Community College, where he developed the Environmental Technology Program.