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Tag Archive: Maryland

MD PSC Approves Modified Electric Vehicle Portfolio

electric car iconThe Maryland Public Service Commission issued an order on January 14, 2019, approving Electric Vehicle (“EV”) Portfolio Programs for Maryland’s electric distribution utilities. The EV Portfolio Programs aim to increase EV usage in Maryland by expanding EV tariff options, furthering utility investment in EV charging infrastructure, and offering customer programs for EV owners.

The Proposed EV Portfolio Programs:

Case No. 9478 kicked off with a petition filed on January 22, 2018, by the Public Conference 44 Electric Vehicle Work Group Leader, with the support of the utilities and several other stakeholders, to implement a statewide electric vehicle proposal. The proposals for each participating utility are summarized below:

Baltimore Gas and Electric: BGE’s proposed program included installation of 18,455 EV chargers, costing $48.1 million. For residential customers, BGE proposed $9.7 million in rebate programs that could be pared with BGE’s existing “Whole-House Time-of-Use Rate” for customers with EV chargers. BGE also proposed $14.1 million in rebates and incentives, as well as a “Demand Charge Credit” program, for non-residential customers who install EV chargers for fleet use. In addition to these customer programs, BGE proposed a public network of 1,000 EV chargers, costing $17 million, and a grant program for 490 EV chargers, costing another $7.2 million.

Pepco and Delmarva: Pepco and Delmarva proposed similar programs, including a combined 3,038 EV chargers costing $41.9 million. The Pepco and Delmarva proposals also included residential rebate programs, off-peak charging credits, and expansion of Pepco’s “Whole-House Time-of-Use Rate” to Delmarva. The price tag for the Pepco and Delmarva residential programs was $5 million. For non-residential customers, Pepco and Delmarva proposed rebate and incentive programs for EV chargers, a demand charge credit program, for a combined cost of $10 million. Pepco and Delmarva also proposed installing 608 public EV chargers, costing $16.9 million. Pepco and Delmarva proposed $6.9 million in additional rebate and grant programs for installation of EV chargers. The proposed “DC Fast Charging with Energy Storage” demonstration project is aimed at minimizing adverse grid impacts from installation of fast charging stations, for another $2.8 million.

Potomac Edison: Potomac Edison also proposed rebates, incentives, public chargers, and EV tariffs, with a total of 2,259 EV chargers costing over $12.3 million.

The utilities proposed ratepayer financing for the $104.7 million investment in new infrastructure charging portfolios, meaning customers will pay for these programs through electric distribution rates or customer surcharges over a five year period. However, there are other state and local incentive programs available that may offset some of the costs for the new chargers. Some of the costs would also be recovered from charging customers that use public or non-residential chargers. As discussed below, the Commission did not approve these programs as proposed, reducing the program size and the cost to Maryland ratepayers.

The Commission’s Decision (Order No. 88997):

In its order, the Commission reduced the BGE and Potomac Edison residential rebate programs to a total of 1,000 each. The Commission also limited the rebate to $300 (compared to the proposed $500 rebate). The Commission approved the proposed Pepco and Delmarva residential rebate offerings. The Commission also approved continuation and expansion of utility “Whole-House Time-of-Use Rate” offerings for residential customers. Regarding the non-residential customer proposals, the Commission limited its approval to rebates and incentives for EV chargers installed at multi-unit or multi-tenant dwellings. The Commission also approved a limited number of rate-payer funded public charging stations: 500 for BGE, 100 for Delmarva, 250 for Pepco, and the full 59 proposed by Potomac Edison. The Commission rejected the proposed $14 million in innovation rebate and grant programs, as well as the proposed Pepco and Delmarva demonstration projects. The Commission also directed all the utilities to recover costs through traditional ratemaking in a future rate case (as proposed by BGE, Delmarva, and Pepco), rather than Potomac Edison’s upfront customer surcharge.

The next step is for the utilities to develop and submit tariff proposals to implement the EV programs approved by the Commission.

If you have any questions about the Maryland Public Service Commission’s decision on the Statewide Electric Vehicle Program or other regulatory issues, contact Eric Wallace or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Continued Progress for Community Solar in Maryland

Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program is moving along with dozens of solar facilities in the project queues for Baltimore Gas and Electric CompanyPepco MDDelmarva Power MD, and Potomac Edison Company. The first year of the program has seen strong interest from the Subscriber Organizations that develop and manage the solar facilities. Under the program, customers subscribe to a portion of the output of the community solar facilities, which are called Community Solar Energy Generating Systems.

Many of the solar projects entered the utilities’ production queues last summer, so they will be reaching the operational deadline under the program rules in the next few weeks, unless they request an additional six months. Several Subscriber Organizations have recently filed requests with the Maryland Public Service Commission for extensions, citing permitting delays, program delays, and other implementation challenges.

The program is a great opportunity for electricity customers – including low- and moderate income residents – to access solar energy, particularly those that rent or do not have the ability to install their own solar panels. Under the pilot program, if a community solar facility is located within your utility’s service territory, even if it is across town, you can enroll with a Subscriber Organization and purchase a portion of the energy produced by your community solar system. While subscribed to a solar facility, customers receive a bill credit each month for energy generated by the solar system. Offers from Subscriber Organizations include discounts off the utility’s standard electric rates from around 5%-10%.

Customers won’t actually get their household energy directly from solar panels, but their payments will help finance solar facilities that place electricity onto the grid. So far, the Commission has approved six projects across Maryland and we anticipate that more will be approved within the next few years. Statewide, the General Assembly authorized bout 200 MWs to be built under the pilot program which could power about 40,000 households.

As with any new program, some implementation challenges are to be expected as the program gets off the ground. However, we are optimistic that Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program will be a success, enabling more and more customers are able to access solar energy.

If you would like more information about the program’s background, we have been tracking the Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program since its inception and the development of the program regulations back in April of 2016 (check out our previous post here). We also did a video about Community Solar in the mid-Atlantic region last Spring.

If you have questions or would like more information about community solar projects or other regulatory issues, contact Eric Wallace or any of our mid-Atlantic energy lawyers.

Delaware Adopts New Consumer Protection Rules for Electricity Sales

The Delaware Public Service Commission has approved new Electric Supplier Rules for final publication in the April 1, 2017 edition of the Delaware Register. The rules will become canstockphoto17677884effective April 11, 2017.

The new rules replace Delaware’s existing Electric Supplier Rules and introduce numerous provisions that affect virtually everything that retail suppliers do – including not only obtaining a license but also marketing electricity and enrolling new customers.  In fashioning the new rules, the stakeholders looked primarily to Maryland’s and Pennsylvania’s recently-revised rules, and then tailored them to Delaware.  Retail suppliers will be required to make additional upfront disclosures in marketing and contract documents, and provide specific training for their agents. The rules directly address telemarketing and door-to-door sales and add requirements that do not exist today. As an example, for door-to-door sales, a supplier will be required to obtain a wet or electronic signature and also to perform a third-party verification. The rules also have a new definition and requirements for third-party verifications.

Our firm was very involved in negotiating the new rules and arguing non-consensus items before the Commission. If you’re a retail supplier eyeing Delaware as a new service territory, or if you’re already serving in Delaware, please feel free to call our energy lawyers with any questions.

 

Maryland Commission May Transform State’s Electric Distribution Systems

In September, 2016, the Maryland Public Service Commission issued a Notice of Public Conference (Notice), initiating a “targeted” review of Maryland’s electric distribution systems to ensure that they are customer-centered, affordable, reliable and environmentally sustainable. The proceeding builds on recent technical conferences involving barriers to the development of distributed energy resources and electric vehicles, and also piggy-backs on a condition in the May 2015 approval of the merger of Exelon and Pepco Holdings, Inc. (PHI), which required PHI to file a plan for transforming its distribution system and fund up to $500,000 to retain a consultant to the Commission on the matter.

In the Notice, the Commission asked stakeholders to file comments on various topics, including:

  • Enhancing rate design options, particularly for electric vehicles;
  • Maximizing Advanced Metering Infrastructure (smart meters) benefits;
  • Valuing energy storage properly;
  • Streamlining the interconnection process for distributed energy resources;
  • Evaluating distribution system planning;
  • Protecting limited-income Marylanders;
  • Assessing PHI’s recent microgrid report; and
  • Suggestions for the timeline and format of the public conference.

The Commission envisions this process to take up to 18 months and could lead to more proceedings down the road on specific issues. Commission Chairman Kevin Hughes commented that, “Some of our goals with this public conference include exploring issues that will maximize benefits and choice to Maryland electric customers . . .”

By late October, more than 50 stakeholders had filed comments, including our clients, IGS Energy and Just Energy, and the Commission set a hearing for December 8-9, 2016. We will continue to monitor and blog about this proceeding so check back right here. Meanwhile, if you have questions about these proceedings or issues of retail electric competition in Maryland or the mid-Atlantic, call any of our utility regulation lawyers..

Maryland Proposes Community Solar Pilot Program Regulations

sunset-solar-squareThe proposed regulations for Maryland’s Community Solar Pilot Program were published in the Maryland Register on April 29, 2016.  Here is a link to the Community Solar Pilot Program rules as published. Under the proposed rules, customers that subscribe to a community solar energy generating system will receive full retail rate credit for their subscription up to break-even (i.e. the point where their subscribed generation matches their usage). However, credit for subscribed generation exceeding a customer’s actual usage will be limited to the supply price (transmission and distribution excluded).

The proposed program structure includes: (1) an overall cap of 1.5 percent of 2015 Maryland peak demand; (2) annual capacity caps for each of the three years of the program; (3) a per-utility cap of 1.5 percent of 2015 Maryland peak demand; (4) capacity allocations to “small,” “open,” and “Low and Moderate Income (LMI)” categories; and (5) a limit of 350 accounts per community solar energy generating system.

Comments on the proposed rules are due to the Maryland Public Service Commission by May 30, 2016. For more information about Maryland Community Solar Pilot Program, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy attorneys.

Maryland Commission Adopts New Consumer Protection Rules

On February 10, 2016, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved revised consumer protection regulations governing the retail sale of electricity and natural gas. The revised rules include several substantive changes relating to how retail suppliers operate in Maryland. The changes involve additional up-front pricing disclosures to customers, and additional notices throughout each customers’ contract term. One of the more significant operational changes is a new requirement that utilities process a customer’s request to switch electricity providers within three business days. The revised Rules also include entire new sections addressing retail suppliers’ relationships with their marketing and sales agents.

We have previously blogged here, here, and here at various stages of this two-year rulemaking. In sum, the Commission initiated this rulemaking in response to the extreme cold weather conditions in the beginning of 2014 that caused wholesale energy prices to spike dramatically. Generally speaking, customers who had signed up for monthly variable retail priced contracts, which are tied to wholesale prices, saw their retail rates increase considerably. The primary policy goals of the revised rules is to assist customers in better understanding the energy products they are considering, to require certain notices to customers during their contract term, and to afford customers the opportunity and flexibility to change their energy provider quickly to take advantage of pending offers.

The next step for implementation will be publication of the final rules in the Maryland Register. While the timing of the publication is uncertain, it is anticipated that the rules will become effective at some point in March 2016. Retail suppliers will need to review their contract language, third-party verification scripts, training materials, and other areas to ensure they are complying with the new rules. Retail suppliers that are unable to comply with any of the new requirements will need to seek a waiver from the Commission.

If you have any questions about Maryland’s new retail energy supplier rules or the process for seeking a waiver, please contact one of GreeneHurlocker’s energy lawyers for more information.

Revised Consumer Protection Rules Advancing in Maryland

In early October, 2015, the Maryland Public Service Commission approved for publication in the Maryland Register revised consumer protection rules applicable to the marketing and sale of electricity and natural gas by licensed retail suppliers. The Commission’s approval comes after more than a year of stakeholder working group meetings as well as legislative-style hearings that occurred in February, September, and October 2015.  GreeneHurlocker’s lawyers have been involved in these proceedings since day one, and we have previously blogged about them here and here.

Among the many new provisions, the revised Rules require utilities to process a customer’s request to switch electricity providers within three business days, and they require retail suppliers to make additional up-front pricing disclosures in the contracts they offer to prospective customers. The revised Rules also include entire new sections relating to retail suppliers’ relationships with their agents who solicit customers on their behalf.

It is anticipated that the revised Rules will be published in the Maryland Register by the end of 2015 although there is no definite timetable.  Once published, interested persons will have 30 days to submit comments to the Commission. After that, the Commission will hold a hearing to vote on whether the revised Rules should be approved and, if approved, they will appear in the Maryland Register as final.  The Commission stated at its October 2015 meeting that the revised Rules will become effective once they are final, and any utility or retail supplier that cannot comply will be expected to seek a waiver from the Commission.

Our firm is participating in these Maryland proceedings, representing the Retail Energy Supply Association.

Maryland’s New Consumer Protection Rules Hearing

The Maryland Public Service Commission has set a June 16-17 hearing date to consider the publication of new consumer protection rules for electricity and natural gas retail suppliers.  The new rules would impact several aspects of a supplier’s marketing and enrollment processes. In January 2015, the Commission Staff, the Office of People’s Counsel, and the Retail Energy Supply Association submitted extensive redlines of the proposed rules. The Commission held a hearing in February that was more of an educational hearing, and then new proposed rules were communicated to stakeholders last month.

One of the biggest issues involves the impact of the new rules on  a supplier’s ability to offer contracts where the price of the electricity or natural gas can change every month (“variable” contracts), and also contracts that automatically renew at the end of the initial term. The proposed rules would require advance notice of any price change and also customer approval, even if the customer had already consented to these terms when he or she initially enrolled. According to suppliers, the new rules would increase customer acquisition and retention costs and would discourage suppliers from doing business in Maryland.  Consumer advocates take the position that these rules are necessary to protect customers from price increases about which they might be unaware.

Another issue is the ability of a customer to quickly switch to another supplier or to his or her utility service. The new proposed rules would reduce that amount of time from 12 days before your next meter read to three business days from the date your switch request is submitted to the utility. The Commission, before setting the June 16-17 hearing date, indicated in a letter order that it wanted to see this “accelerated switching” go into effect.

For more information on Maryland energy consumer protection law or retail electrical markets, please contact the electrical power regulatory lawyers at GreeneHurlocker.

Eric Hurlocker Elected VP of SEIA MDV

That’s a lot of letters just to tell you that Eric is now vice president of the Board of the Maryland – District of Columbia – Virginia Solar Energy Industries Association, as reported by association exec Dana Sleeper last week.

Eric joined the MDV-SEIA Board of Directors last year and serves as general counsel to the association. His work includes identifying and tracking legislation in the Virginia General Assembly that may affect solar and other renewable power development.

He said, “I am looking forward to expanding my role on the MDV-SEIA board and within the regional solar community. This is a particularly exciting time to be working the solar industry, as there is much change on the national level, the regional level, and particularly in Virginia, where my firm is located.”

MDV-SEIA members design, sell, integrate, install, maintain and finance solar energy equipment for residential, commercial, and institutional customers throughout the region and the membership includes accountants, attorneys, builders, architects, electricians, plumbers, and consultants that support solar industries, according to the group. Solar has made tremendous strides in the Mid-Atlantic over the last few years and MDV-SEIA has led the policy changes that have created this market, reports its website.

Retail Suppliers Beware! Four More Lessons Learned from Starion Energy’s Record-Setting Fine in Maryland

This is the second in a two-part series highlighting “Lessons Learned” from the Maryland Public Service Commission’s recent ruling penalizing Starion Energy PA, Inc. for violating various consumer protection laws in Maryland. The first cited three lessons for retail electricity suppliers. This final post lists another four.

Lesson Four: Retail Suppliers Absolutely Cannot Make Misrepresentations When Communicating With Customers.

This part of the Maryland Public Service Commission’s decision is painful to read. The Commission found that Starion engaged in a “clear pattern of repeated misrepresentations” to potential customers, including (1) claiming to be representatives of the utility; ; (2) guaranteeing savings; (3) claiming that SMECO buys its power from Starion, so buying direct from Starion would eliminate the middle man. Starion representatives included similar claims on marketing materials, including door hangers left on the doors of SMECO customers. Many of the complaints contended that the Starion representative committed multiple violations in the same phone call.

For its part, Starion did not dispute that these statements were made by Starion representatives. In fact, the Commission noted that, Starion “conceded that the number of misrepresentations could exceed 10,000, although we understand that she was merely reflecting the fact that Starion could not verify how often these misrepresentations occurred.”

Prohibitions against such false or misleading sales tactics are a fundamental component of both Maryland and federal consumer protection laws. Retail electricity suppliers need to be adamant in their training and monitoring of sales agents, including vendors, to ensure that misrepresentations of this kind do not occur.

Lesson Five: Retail Suppliers Must Comply With Maryland’s Door-to-Door Act.

Maryland’s Door-to-Door Act requires sales representatives to fulfill certain requirements. These requirements include things like the sales representative wearing a name badge clearly himself/herself – not branded to the customer’s utility – and providing the customer a written copy of the contract. The Commission found that Starion had violated these requirements over a series of months, and that “[c]onsidering how significantly Starion relied upon this type of solicitation to attract new customers, its ongoing failure to comply with this law is remarkable.” Door-to-door solicitation is generally a risky endeavor, and the Commission in a prior case has held that one instance of misrepresentation could have been enough, if proven, to warrant revocation of the supplier’s license. Therefore, retail suppliers engaging in door-to-door solicitations need to make sure they comply with the requirements of the Door-to-Door Act by, among other things, making sure their sales representatives and vendors receive adequate training before soliciting customers, and the sales force should be monitored daily, even by random audits, if possible.

Lesson Six: Retail Suppliers Should Be Aware that the Maryland Telephone Solicitation Act is Unlike Other State’s Telemarketing Laws.

The Maryland Telephone Solicitation Act (MTSA) has certain specific requirements to obtain a valid and enforceable contract via a phone solicitation. After the initial phone call suppliers must send the customer a written contract within three business days containing statutorily specified language, which the customer must then sign. There are several exemptions to the MTSA, and its “wet” signature requirement. One exemption is if the supplier sends the prospective customer written marketing materials before the telephone solicitation, and the sale is made pursuant to an examination of those materials. Suppliers conducting telephone solicitations in the regulated Maryland retail electricity market also need to be aware of and comply with federal consumer protection laws addressing telephone solicitations – including the Telephone Consumer Protection Act and the National Do-Not-Call List. To avoid falling afoul of telephone solicitation laws, be sure to include required disclosures and statutorily-prescribed language in the scripts used by your telemarketers.

Starion had not obtained any wet signatures and, for whatever reason, no party questioned the Starion witness about whether Starion sent direct mail pieces before calling Maryland residents. While the Commission noted that Starion had the burden of proving that the MTSA exemption applied, the Commission nonetheless held that there could be no MTSA violation because the record was unclear as to Starion’s prior contacts.

Lesson Seven: Retail Suppliers’ Licenses in Maryland are Specific to Utility Service Territories and Customer Service Types, and the Commission Must Approve Any Changes to a Supplier’s License.

In its 2010 Maryland license application, Starion elected not to include commercial customers in Pepco’s service territory or any customers in SMECO’s service territory. Starion could have included these territories simply by checking the applicable boxes on its application. Because Starion had not sought the Commission’s approval to amend its license, the Commission found that Starion had violated applicable regulations. Prudent retail electricity suppliers seeking an initial license should select all of the customer types and service areas, as there is no requirement that a supplier initially serve all selected customers. For those suppliers already licensed and operating in Maryland, it is imperative that you know the scope of your license and operate within the service territories you selected. If you wish to expand, following proper Commission procedures to update your license will save you some serious headaches, and possible dollars, down the road. In the Commission’s words, Starion’s “failure to request an expanded license to operate in SMECO’s service territory until after it is caught is not an academic mistake.”

The regulatory landscape for retail electricity suppliers in Maryland is complex and dynamic, so suppliers need to be aware of the breadth of law regulating marketing in Maryland, and learn from Starion’s mistakes. If you have questions about the Maryland electricity market, the Starion decision or other issues of energy regulation and sales, please contact one of our energy lawyers.

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