September 27, 2020

House Economic Matters Committee Briefing: September 23, 2020

Natural Gas Infrastructure: Labyrinth Road update; STRIDE and Pipeline Maintenance; 

COVID–19 and Utility Moratorium: Arrearage Management, Budget Billing, and Public Assistance

  

John Borkoski, Chief Engineer, Maryland Public Service Commission

 Gas Safety Oversight

  1. The U.S. Department of Transportation, Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has overall responsibility for regulating gas pipelines in the United States.
  2. PHMSA has granted the authority to enforce pipeline safety regulations to the Public Service Commission (Commission or PSC) in Maryland.
  3. The Commission’s Technical Staff inspect and enforce the pipeline safety regulations for intrastate gas and hazardous liquid pipelines.
  4. Jurisdictional Gas Operators in Maryland include:
    1. Natural Gas Utilities (6) – Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE), Chesapeake Utilities (recently merged with Elkton Gas), Columbia Gas (CG), Easton Utilities, UGI and Washington Gas Light (WGL)
    2. Master Meter Operators (47)
    3. Propane Operators (13)
    4. Landfill Gas Operators (2)
    5. Intrastate Gas Transmission Operators (5)

 

Gas Safety Practices

  1. CFR Title 49, Part 192 (PHMSA) is adopted in COMAR and has various design, construction, operation, maintenance, testing and administrative requirements.
  2. Common Maryland utility gas safety related practices include:
    1. Enhancing Leak Detection by adding Mercaptan odorant to gas
    2. Immediate Response 24/7 for gas odors
    3. Leak Surveying every 1, 3 or 5 years, depending on risk
    4. Damage Prevention via Miss Utility/ 811 “One Call” System
    5. Testing of cathodic protection systems used for corrosion prevention on steel pipelines, pressure testing of new pipelines and transmission pipeline integrity assessments via testing or excavations
    6. Excess Flow Valves on new and renewed services, with some exclusions
    7. System Monitoring of pressure 24/7
    8. Maintenance of equipment in district regulator stations, gate stations and gas storage sites

 

STRIDE Overview

  1. PUA §4-210 provides for the recovery of reasonable and prudent investment associated with accelerated gas company infrastructure improvements for safety and reliability through a STRIDE surcharge.
  2. Reliability & safety issues addressed by MD utility STRIDE II plans include:
    1. Vintage cast/wrought iron (BGE, WGL)
    2. Bare steel mains and services and unprotected coated steel (BGE, CG, WGL)
    3. Vintage mechanically coupled gas mains and services (WGL)
    4. Aldyl-A plastic pipe (CG)
    5. ¾ inch high pressure steel services (BGE), copper services (BGE, WGL), pre-1975 plastic services (WGL)
    6. Meter set piping, steel pressure gauges, shallow main replacements and various gas transmission safety & reliability initiatives (WGL)

 

Maryland Gas Materials Inventory

  1. Bare steel main remaining at the end of 2019 is 166 miles or 1.1% of total installed main in MD and 3% of all steel main.
  2. Bare steel services remaining at the end of 2019 is 65,732 or 6.2% of total installed services in MD and 3.6% of all steel services.
  3. Iron main remaining at the end of 2019 is 1,113 miles or 7.2% of total installed main in MD; BGE still has 23 iron services remaining.
  4. Copper services remaining at the end of 2019 is 38,774 or 3.6% of total installed services in MD.

 

Maryland Gas Distribution

  1. Total leaks per 1,000 miles in Maryland have plateaued in recent years due to STRIDE investments.
  2. Continued STRIDE investment will reduce future leak rates.

 

Q&A

 

Delegate Samuel Rosenberg: When you say gas piping beyond the gas meter, what does that mean? What is gas piping in that circumstance?

John Borkoski: Gas piping in that circumstance is in relation to an appliance.

 

Delegate Seth Howard: Can you help me understand what the cost covers? Is that digging up the piping, or permitting?

John Borkoski: Those costs were total costs and they not only include mains and services but some of the other initiatives that utilities have, so you can’t really make an apples to apples comparison to come up with a cost per mile. We do find that when you get into an urban area it’s going to be much more expensive.

 

Delegate Lorig Charkoudian: First question related to the Flower Branch explosion. The second is related to the workforce for STRIDE. Did the PSC put resources to that effort in the investigation?

John Borkoski: Yes, PSC will always do an investigation. We did do an investigation in the Flower Branch explosion, however we can only take it so far. We turned over our result to the NTSB, we were a party to that investigation. They asked us to supply them with a report. We had no cause found and the reason for that was because we did not have the resources at our disposal to do all the simulations and modeling that the NTSB has at their disposal. We participated as a party a formal party in the NTSB.

Delegate Lorig Charkoudian: Is there a state statute that we would need to change? Do you have recommendations on what we might do in this state, so that when we put our resources towards this larger federal effort we can then still use those resources to hold the utilities accountable when it’s appropriate?

John Borkoski: My understanding is the federal statute states in an NTSB report, shall not be admitted into evidence or used in a civil action for damages. My understanding as an engineer is that the reason that is in federal statute is because the subject of an investigation is less likely to cooperate with an NTSB investigation if the subject fears the damages are significant.

Delegate Lorig Charkoudian: Are you able to speak to what extent the limited workforce is holding up the progress on STRIDE?

John Borkoski: This may be a better question for utilities to address. All of the proposed plans indicated they could do the work, and they are doing the work. They are pretty much on schedule but there has been significant impact. To do this work you have to have certain qualifications, it’s very highly regulated.

 

Do you see STRIDE as being successful in making the gas line utilities safer? Does the Public Service Commission have any documents or records that there has been abuses with STRIDE or do you think it’s been used properly?

John Borkoski: I do think STRIDE has been successful. I think when you look at the leak chart I showed you, where the number of gas leaks per mile in Maryland has leveled off and plateaued and we’re expecting it to go down. I think all the utilities have had a learning curve with STRIDE and I wouldn’t say there any abuses, I know there have been cost overruns and less mileage completed than originally expected, but I think that’s a result of utilities ramping up and trying to get experience with STRIDE. It’s running much more smoothly the second cycle.

 

 

Charles L. Washington, Jr., Director, Governmental & External Affairs, BGE

Chris Burton, Vice President, Gas

 

Stride Summary

  1. STRIDE accelerates the replacement of aging gas infrastructure to provide Maryland businesses and citizens with safe, modern and environmentally sound gas infrastructure, while boosting Maryland’s economy.
  2. Prior to implementing STRIDE, BGE estimated a more than 100-year timeline to replace 1,298 miles of cast iron main, and 42 miles of bare steel main.
  3. At our current pace, BGE anticipates completing STRIDE pipeline replacement work in 2040.

 

STRIDE Process

  1. BGE applies to the PSC in five-year project increments for cost recovery that is capped at a $2 monthly fee on residential customers’ bills.
  2. Each year, BGE provides the Commission a list of proposed projects and projected costs for projects to be completed in the following year.
  3. BGE files an annual mid-year report detailing the company’s progress, and BGE provides additional annual reports to ensure accountability.
  4. Each year, an independent audit confirms STRIDE’s progress and project costs.

 

Current Pace of Infrastructure Replacement

  1. Current pace of STRIDE replacement work is an average of 48miles a year.
  2. Current cost of STRIDE work is an average of $2.5M a mile.
  3. At the current pace and cost, the work would be completed in 2040 and cost approximately $2.7B.

 

Further Accelerating Infrastructure Replacement

  1. Further accelerating the replacement of natural gas infrastructure would require:
    1. Streamlined agreements with state agencies, local jurisdictions, and communities
    2. State policies that align sufficient capital with the desired timeframe

 

Labyrinth Road Incident –August 10, 2020

  1. BGE immediately responded to the incident to make conditions safe, inspect equipment, and coordinate with the Baltimore City Fire Department.
  2. BGE completed the inspection of BGE gas and electric equipment serving the 4200 block of Labyrinth Road in northwest Baltimore and found that its equipment —gas mains, gas service pipes and gas meters, as well as electric equipment —has been operating safely and was not the cause of the natural gas explosion that occurred Aug. 10.
  3. Investigators are also examining customer-owned gas piping and appliances at the scene. The investigation into the specific events leading to the explosion will continue by the Baltimore City Fire Department and other local, state, and federal agencies, and BGE will continue to provide assistance to the ongoing investigation.

 

Q&A

 

Delegate Tony Bridges: Do you know when was the last time a survey was done on Labyrinth Road? If there is an opportunity to assist those individuals with their BGE bills what can be done?

Chris Burton: Commercial areas and areas of assembly are surveyed every year; all residential areas are done on a 3 year cycle so we exceed the requirements. That specific neighborhood was done in the June/July 2019 timeframe, so about a year prior to the event and no issues were found. Subsequent to the event we did a special leak survey, not only of that block but also the surrounding blocks in the area. We found two very minor issues that we corrected immediately and nothing that was hazardous. We are always looking to work with customers that call us to make some type of arrangements. We did reach out and make donations to the Red Cross.

 

Delegate Rick Impallaria: In Baltimore City what is the average age of the gas system/gas lines?

Chris Burton: I don’t have that information off the top but I’m sure we could run some numbers. Cast iron and bare steel was put in prior to 50 years ago, cast iron was last put in in the 1950’s.

 

Senator Delores Kelley: Regarding the Labyrinth Road situation. What kind of public education campaign have you instituted in that area or are you instituting on a regular basis? So that property owners know what not to do or what to avoid in order to not recreate another situation?

Chris Burton: We go through several different things for public information campaigns. Some are through bill inserts, and ads on television. We regularly communicate with the contractor community some of that is associated with general gas safety.

Senator Delores Kelley: Are there third party experts that should be brought in on a case like this to look over the findings of the utility whose infrastructure was impacted?

Chris Burton: We are not investigating anything beyond the meter, we are cooperating initially with the Baltimore City Fire Department and with other agencies like the Public Service Commission that were on site. We were doing testing of our facilities to make sure they were safe.

 

Delegate Lorig Charkoudian: Can you speak to the workforce pace and timeline for STRIDE?

Chris Burton: During STRIDE 1 we ramped up to a rate where we were able to replace about 50 miles per year. That includes the services and replacing the services in those houses and upgrading from low pressure to medium or high pressure. We have ramped up the resources to be able to do that. We’re replacing anywhere from 5500 to 6000 high pressure steel services. If we wanted to increase the rate we would have to shut down another program that we have and deploy the resources there or add resources.

 

 

Jason M. Stanek, Chairman, Public Service Commission

 

Impacts of COVID-19 on Utilities & Ratepayers

  1. MD PSC established PC 53 to examine effects of COVID-19 pandemic on regulated electric, gas and water utilities.
    1. Commission Duties: Reliability, safety, just & reasonable rates.
    2. Utilities, OPC, OHEP, advocates and others submitted written filings and testified at hearings.
    3. Mounting electric and gas arrearages were reported (approximately $300M total).
  2. Commission issued directives from the bench providing protections for residential customers.
    1. Extended moratorium on collections, fees and terminations until October 1; existing turnoff notices are invalid.
    2. Required 45 days notice (rather than 14 days), prior to termination of service.
    3. Mandated repayment plans of at least 12 months (24 months for OHEP-qualified low-income customers).
    4. Prohibited down payments and deposits as a condition of any payment plan.
    5. Directed that customers who have failed to meet the terms of a prior payment arrangement still qualify for a new one.
  3. What’s next?
    1. Utility filings and hearing on potential cost-neutral arrearage management programs.
    2. A detailed Order in PC 53.

 

Q&A

 

Delegate Dereck Davis: If the General Assembly were to pass legislation to extend the moratorium say another 4 months. Are you saying this is not ultimately borne by the utility? It is borne across all customer classes?

Jason M. Stanek: That is exactly what you are hearing. Hence the need for us to get a handle on this problem sooner rather than later. Utility will not bear the expense of any bad debt it would be bared by your constituents.

 

Delegate Steven Arentz: What is a realistic number to even recoup some of these payments? These aren’t the people that are making $100,000 a year. Do you have any real feel for what that expectation is going to be spread throughout the bases?

Jason M. Stanek: I am under no illusion that a large amount of this will never be paid by customers because they have obviously fallen on hard times. We initiated the proceedings to look at the arrearage management programs that are which are successfully used in other states.

Delegate Steven Arentz: Is this information being relayed to the governor? Is he aware of this circumstance and how that burden is going to go on these people?

Jason M. Stanek: As an independent agency I don’t have any direct contact with the governor, but I expect the governor’s office is aware that any bad debt is not borne by utility.

 

Delegate Diana Fennell: When will termination notices go out?

Jason M. Stanek:  They will be sent out no earlier than October 1st, hence the need for all of us to make use of your communication stream to notify your constituents. Now is the time to ask for money, there is free money out there over $170 million currently sits unclaimed managed by OHEP and they are more than happy to begin to qualify applicants to receive this energy assistance.

 

Senator Malcolm Augustine: Have you considered extending an additional month considering we haven’t really had any change in the financial conditions of the state? I’m also concerned about the time of year, given the drop in temperature that we know is coming and potentially having people shut off.

Jason M. Stanek: Obviously there is no good time to do this. We do have winter restrictions built into state law, when electric and gas utilities can turn off customers and when they can’t. We do have a winter restriction period that runs from November 1st to March 31st every year. This requires utilities to check about a dozen more boxes, including taking a look at what the temperature is a particular day before effectuating the termination of service.

 

Delegate Jay Walker: Did any of the utilities in the state of Maryland received any federal bailout money?

Jason M. Stanek:  I do not know if they have received any CARES funding. I should strike that; I am aware that both Choptank Electrical and Southern Maryland Electric did receive PPP funding through the federal government.

Delegate Jay Walker: What do we expect a utility company to say when they receive a call from a customer that is unable to pay? What do we expect a family to do if they don’t meet the requirements or qualify for assistance?

Jason M. Stanek: The utilities have given us their commitment and have demonstrated that they are going to be changing everything from their call center operations to using proactive outreach to contact customers that are in threat of possibly losing service. If they can’t pay, they will provide referrals to OHEP and other social services agencies that may be able to assist them.

Delegate Jay Walker: What determines if they can pay or not is it strictly income based?

Jason M. Stanek: It is largely tied to if the customer is eligible for other needs based programs.

Delegate Kathleen Dumais: Is there any other programs or anything the regulators are going to do to make sure that utilities take some of the risk and some of the loss as we will as ratepayers will?

Jason M. Stanek: That is a concern that has been aired by many. That the utility sector is one industry that doesn’t need to share in the pain because they are guaranteed cost recovery and guaranteed to receive a reasonable rate of return. That is the situation we are in. We could ask the utilities to dig deeper into their pockets and defer some of this but obviously that would not be in their shareholders interest to do so.

 

Senator Stephen Hershey: There are a lot of businesses that have suffered through this pandemic that are not being made whole and then are having to absorb a lot of bad debt and nonpayment. While utilities are regulated and are guaranteed a rate of return, isn’t that just on the distribution side of the bill? What does that mean for the supply side the energy cost specifically? Are they guaranteed a rate of return on that or will the other ratepayers just have to bear the costs from the distribution side?

Jason M. Stanek: From the supply side it’s simply a pass, the utilities aren’t receiving a return on that. Our utilities are earning a return on the accumulated rate base that has been accrued in addition to any expenses the PSC determines to be prudent.

 

Delegate Brian Crosby: What do you think would be a recommended threshold to which our shareholders should feel some of the hurt that is being passed off to the ratepayers?

Jason M. Stanek:  That is a debate that is currently underway. I will note that in your district your represented by a member owned cooperative so we’re dealing with a situation that is totally different over there. It is something that the legislature may consider. It would be a major shift in the way that not only Maryland sets rates but other Public Service Commission’s around the country in terms of having some type of threshold.

 

 

Bill Freeman, Director, Office of Home Energy Programs, Department of Human Services

 

The Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP) provides bill assistance to low-income households in the State of Maryland to make energy costs more affordable and to help with the prevention of loss and the restoration of home energy service.

 

Eligibility

  1. The statutory income eligibility guidelines for all energy assistance benefit programs administered by OHEP offer benefit awards to households with income at or below 175% of the federal poverty guideline.
  2. Income is calculated based on the household’s gross income for the thirty days prior to the date of the application.
  3. Programs are one- time financial benefits that customers have to reapply annually for eligibility determination.
  4. Previously approved applicants 65+ or disabled and on a fixed income need only sign a redetermination.

 

FY 2021 Income Eligibility Guidelines

(Based on 175% of the Federal Poverty Level)

 

Electric Universal Service Program (EUSP)

  1. Financial assistance for electric bills.
  2. If there is an outstanding past due bill that cannot be resolved by an Electric Arrearage Retirement Assistance benefit due to lack of eligibility or an insufficient benefit, then the EUSP benefit can be applied to the past due amount.
  3. Any remaining EUSP benefit is credited to the bill in 12 equal installments or according to the terms of the utility’s budget billing plan. Benefits are calculated by considering the applicants annual electric use, the average cost per kWh, and the poverty level percentage of the household.
  4. The electric account must be in the applicant’s name and the applicant must agree to be enrolled in a utility’s budget billing program.
  5. Minimum benefit: $150; Average benefit: $447; Maximum benefit: $2,213.

 

Maryland Energy Assistance Program (MEAP)

  1. Financial assistance for home heating bills regardless of fuel type.
  2. Payments are made to the fuel supplier or utility company on the customer’s behalf.
  3. MEAP funds may be used to repair equipment to ensure a safe delivery of bulk fuel or pay past due amounts if a minimum delivery of fuel can be made with the remaining benefit amount.
  4. Benefits are calculated by considering the average annual use and cost for each type of fuel and the poverty level percentage of the household.
  5. Minimum benefit: $150; Average benefit: $442; Maximum benefit: $2,213.

 

Electric and Gas Arrearage Retirement Assistance

  1. Financial assistance for past due electric and/or gas bills up to $2,000.
  2. Benefits are applied as a one-time credit to the applicant’s utility account.
  3. Applicants must have a past due electric/gas bill in their name of $300 or greater to be considered eligible.
  4. Customers may only receive an arrearage grant once every seven years, with certain exceptions for households previously receiving less than $800 in arrearage benefits with medically fragile individuals, children under 2, or household members over 65.
  5. Minimum benefit: $300; Average benefit: $862; Maximum benefit: $2,000.

 

Vulnerable Population Waiver

  1. “Vulnerable households” who received <$800 in arrearage funds within the previous 7 years may be eligible for additional funds.
  2. Vulnerable households are defined as having:
    1. Household member over 65; or
    2. Household member under 2; or
    3. Household member who is medically fragile
  3. The total 7 year benefit may not exceed $2,000 (for each arrearage program)

 

Processing Time

  1. Local OHEP agencies must process applications within 45 days.
    1. Sooner if customer is in crisis- Expectation of priority processing for service-off even outside of “crisis season”.
  2. The current statewide average processing time is 19 days.
  3. Typically takes 1-2 billing cycles for customers to see grants on billing statement, but workers can make commitments and/or place 55-day holds to protect accounts.

 

Crisis Season

  1. November 1 – March 31
  2. During crisis season, the local agency must resolve the crisis within the following timeframes:
    1. 18 hours (“life-threatening” definition)
      1. Household has no supply of fuel;
      2. Household’s utility service is disconnected; or
      3. Household has a broken furnace or fuel burner
    2. 48 hours
      1. Not more than a 3 to 4 day supply of fuel; or
      2. A “true” disconnection notice for within 3 or 4 days
        1. Local agency will confirm with the utility company
  3. Incomplete Applications:
    1. The 18-48 hour clock begins when the signed application AND Crisis Season Declaration Form is received.
      1. This form allows customers to declare their 30-day income and acknowledge that their application is incomplete at this time.
      2. This is the only documentation required to receive a crisis benefit or utility commitment.
        1. The application may be pended for all other supporting documentation (e.g. SS card, proof of residence, etc.)
      3. If the customer does not complete the application requirements or is determined ineligible, they must repay the grants received
  4. Complete Applications:
    1. The 18-48 hour clock begins when the complete application package is received.
      1. Declaration form is not necessary

 

Pandemic Response

  1. OHEP convened regular stakeholder meetings to discuss the challenges posed by the eventual return to normal collections activities.
  2. Processes to allow for handling applications over the phone were established, electronic signatures were enabled, and outreach to returning customers was expanded.
  3. Released Maryland Energy Assistance Program benefit payments on July 15th to help alleviate the burdens of customers.
  4. In a typical year, applications from households that are off-service or have a termination notice account for half of all applications received.
  5. OHEP anticipates application and benefits will increase significantly after the initial issuance of termination notices by utilities on October 1st.
  6. The utilities agreed to provide OHEP and the local agencies lists of all customers receiving termination notices. Lists will include name, address, email, phone number etc.
  7. Once OHEP receives the lists of customers facing service termination on October 1st, the scale of the increases will be more discernible.
  8. Local agencies are revising their crisis response plans based on the new October 1st timeline.
  9. Prominent messaging on website and outbound DHS materials. Messaging coordination with utilities.
  10. Prioritize energy assistance in the call center queue.
  11. Upgrading the OHEP Data Management System’s capability of mailing forms and following up with those with missing information.
  12. The Department assesses that adequate funding is available through the current appropriation and the additional $19.4 million in CARES Act LIHEAP funding to meet the demand for energy assistance.
  13. We are happy to keep you apprised of progress in meeting the demand for energy assistance following October 1st.

 

Q&A

 

Delegate Jay Walker: Where do we send those in jeopardy when they don’t qualify for help? Why is there not a program that we can offer to people in Maryland?

Bill Freeman: There are some community agencies that do have higher income thresholds so there’s an opportunity there. I don’t necessarily have an answer for why there is not a program in place.

 

Delegate Benjamin Brooks: Since they are benefiting economically from the payments on their behalf, will they be issued a 1099 or some other type of information return?

Bill Freeman: We don’t issue 1099’s, benefit payments are all made directly to the utility or fuel provider so they don’t show up with the customer at all.

 

Delegate Lorig Charkoudian: Question regarding affordable housing in several condo communities. Is there any flexibility in any of the systems that could help support these families?

Bill Freeman: It does get complicated in these situations. People in master meter apartments can be eligible for MEEP, it often involves landlord agreements. There are options for these households to receive MEEP. We do document the responsibility for the bill.

 

Paula Carmody, People’s Counsel

 

COVID-19 and State of Emergency Impacts on Residential Customers

  1. Unprecedented health and financial crisis
    1. Sudden job losses, stay at home orders and remote working
    2. Unemployment compensation and stimulus fund delays
    3. DHS/OHEP local agency closures (spring and summer)
  2. Internet services –heightened importance
    1. Telehealth, distance learning and deliveries
    2. Device charging
  3. Air conditioning (summer) and heat (upcoming winter) needs
  4. State of Emergency continues

 

Office of People’s Counsel Actions

  1. Information and outreach
    1. Moratorium
    2. Energy assistance
    3. Utility payment plans
  2. June 26 Petition and Recommendations
    1. Statewide rule consistency
    2. Moratorium extension
    3. Flexible, affordable payment plans (18-24 months)
    4. No late fees, security deposits or down payments
    5. Reconnection of previously disconnected customers
    6. Data collection and reporting

 

Expiration of Governor Hogan’s Executive Orders on Shut-off Moratorium

  1. Order expired as of September 1
    1. PSC extended moratorium for regulated utilities until October 1
    2. No service disconnection notices until on or after October 1
    3. No service disconnections until on after November 15
    4. Winter termination restrictions in effect Nov 15-Mar 31
  2. No moratorium on unregulated residential services
    1. Public water companies
    2. Internet and broadband services
    3. Cell phone and VOIP services

 

OPC Actions During the COVID-19 State of Emergency

  1. Public Service Commission Proceedings
  2. Direct assistance for vulnerable customers
  3. Alerts to Outreach Network
  4. Training and Webinars
  5. Resource Information
  6. Food Network Delivery Network –Flyers
  7. Utility Bill Clinics

 

PSC COVID-19 Proceedings

  1. OPC June 26 Petition
  2. PSC PC 53 Docket
    1. OPC Comments
    2. PSC Hearing
    3. OPC Request for Clarification
  3. PSC Notice re: Arrearage Management Plan Proposals
    1. OPC will submit comments

 

OPC Resources and Outreach

  1. Resource Information: www.opc.Maryland.gov
    1. Updated Resource Guides
  2. Outreach Network: Over 660 individuals, organizations and agencies
    1. Alerts
      1. Executive Order Moratorium on disconnections
      2. OHEP Energy Assistance
      3. Utility Payment Plans
      4. PSC PC53 Rulings
      5. Other resources
        1. Housing, unemployment and economic stimulus payments

 

OPC Training and Webinars

  1. United Way of Central Maryland (UWCM) 211
  2. Marylanders Against Poverty (MAP)
  3. Maryland Food Bank, Access Response
  4. Maryland Legal Aid Bureau
  5. Fair Housing Roundtable
  6. Eastern Interfaith Emergency Coalition
  7. Welfare Advocates
  8. More in Fall 2020

 

OPC Flyers and Clinics

  1. OHEP Energy Assistance Flyers –Food Delivery Network
    1. Over 100,000 flyers
    2. Examples:
      1. Maryland Food Bank
      2. Moveable Feast
      3. Meals on Wheels
      4. Food pantries
  2. Utility bill assistance clinics: MVLS and Pro Bono Resource Center

 

 

Delegate Benjamin Brooks

Utility Impact: COVID-19

 

Moratoriums

  1. By order of Governor Hogan, prohibition of utility turn-offs and late fees through September 1, 2020.
  2. PSC Order dated August 31, 2020
    1. Utilities may not begin sending termination notices until October 1, 2020, 45 days in advance of a termination (current regulations require only a 14-day notice).
    2. Residential customers in arrears would have 45 days from receipt of a notice to work out a payment plan with their utility or to apply for energy assistance programs. Customers who take either action would not have service disconnected.
    3. Utilities must offer a minimum payment plan of 12 months (or 24 months for those customers receiving energy assistance from the state’s Office of Home Energy Programs).
    4. Utilities cannot require a down payment or deposit as a condition of beginning a payment plan for any residential customer, including both current and new customers.

 

BGE/PEPCO Response

  1. $1.2 million to non-profit organizations (United Way).
  2. $1.5 million to Maryland Fuel Fund, $1 million to COVID-19 relief funds administered by counties in central Maryland in 2020 & establishment of small assistance grants in 2021.
  3. $100,000 to support local organizations helping with food insecurity and other financial challenges facing residents.
  4. $100,000 to small business relief funds in Delaware and Maryland to support small business recovery.
  5. $75,000 through Community Scholars Program to aid local Delaware and Maryland students who have been financially impacted by the pandemic and are seeking careers in energy and related fields.
  6. Payment plans are being offered to all customers with $0 down and with re-payment options for up to 24 months; minimum installment amount of $10.00.
  7. Retro active budget billing.
  8. Public Outreach:
    1. Personal contact to customers with limited income who were already falling behind.
    2. Referrals to Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP).
    3. Bill inserts (Smart Energy News) to all customers.

 

Washington Gas Response

  1. Payment plans are being offered to customers.
    1. $0 down and with re-payment options for up to 12 months-for all customers.
    2. $0 down and with re-payment options for up to 24 months-low income/those customers eligible for energy assistance.
  2. Public Outreach
    1. Phone calls
    2. Emails
    3. Direct Mailers
    4. Bill Inserts
    5. Referrals to Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP)

 

Maryland Energy Assistance Programs

           

Program

 

Administering Office

 

Eligibility Requirements

 

Program Benefit
Maryland Energy Assistance Program (MEAP)

Maryland Office of Home Energy Programs

 

1-800-332-6347

 

https://www.dhs.maryland.gov/office-of-home-energy-programs

1.      Income eligibility program based on household income and size; income must not exceed 175% of the Federal Poverty Level.

2.      Your eligibility is based on the income your household received in the last 30 days.

1.      Provides financial assistance with home heating bills.

2.      Payments are made to the fuel supplier and utility company on the customer’s behalf.

The Electric Universal Service Program (EUSP)

Maryland Office of Home Energy Programs

 

1-800-332-6347

 

https://www.dhs.maryland.gov/office-of-home-energy-programs

1.      Income eligibility program based on household income and size; income must not exceed 175% of the Federal Poverty Level.

2.      Your eligibility is based on the income your household received in the last 30 days.

3.      Residential electric customers only.

1.      Provides financial assistance with electric bills.

2.      Eligible customers receive help that pays a portion of their current electric bills.

3.      Customers who receive EUSP are placed on a budget billing plan with their utility company.

Arrearage Retirement Assistance

Maryland Office of Home Energy Programs

 

1-800-332-6347

 

https://www.dhs.maryland.gov/office-of-home-energy-programs

1.      Income eligibility program based on household income and size; income must not exceed 175% of the Federal Poverty Level.

2.      Your eligibility is based on the income your household received in the last 30 days.

1.  Helps customers with large, past due electric and gas bills.

2.  If eligible, customers may receive forgiveness of up to $2,000 towards their past due bill.

3.  Customers must have a past due bill of $300 or greater to be considered eligible.

4.  Customers may only receive an arrearage grant once every seven years, with certain exceptions.

The Utility Service Protection Program (USPP)

Maryland Office of Home Energy Programs

 

1-800-332-6347

 

https://www.dhs.maryland.gov/office-of-home-energy-programs

1.  Income eligibility program based on household income and size; income must not exceed 175% of the Federal Poverty Level.

2.  Your eligibility is based on the income your household received in the last 30 days.

1.  Protects low-income families from utility cut-offs.

2.  Allows MEAP eligible households to enter into a year-round even monthly payment program with their utility company.

3.  An equal monthly payment plan based on the estimated cost of the customer’s average annual utility usage minus the MEAP benefit will be used to determine the even monthly payments for participation in the USPP.

Weatherization and Energy Efficiency Services

Maryland Office of Home Energy Programs (OHEP) and Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD)

 

1-855-583-8976

 

dhcd.maryland.gov/Pages/EnergyEfficiency

1.      Homeowner applicants must be income eligible (currently 200% of federal poverty level) and able to prove ownership of the housing unit. For rental units, landlords must prove ownership and also agree to participate. Tenants of rental units must be income eligible.

2.      Your eligibility is based on the income your household received in the last 30 days.

1.      Programs that can provide improvements and repairs to homes at no cost.

2.      These improvements can help lower utility bills and make the home more comfortable.

Good Neighbor Energy Fund

Salvation Army

Cambridge 410-228-2442

Salisbury 410-749-3077

https://www.salvationarmyusa.org

 

Harford County Community Action Agency

410 612-9899

https://harfordcaa.org

 

Cecil Heating Assistance Program

410 996-0241

https://www.helppayingutilitybills.com

1.      Eligible beneficiaries are residents of MD who need assistance paying bills rendered by Delmarva Power for electric used in their residence and who do not qualify for fuel heating emergency assistance from other public or private sources. Fund prior to applying for GNEF 1.      Eligible customers can receive one grant per year/amounts vary.
Good Neighbor Energy Fund Expansion Fund

Salvation Army

Cambridge 410-228-2442

Salisbury 410-749-3077

https://www.salvationarmyusa.org

 

Harford County Community Action Agency

410 612-9899

https://harfordcaa.org

 

Cecil Heating Assistance Program

410 996-0241

https://www.helppayingutilitybills.com

  1. The customer must either have a termination notice or the service must be terminated.
  2. Eligible customers may receive up to $500 in a 12-month period.
  3. Eligible customers may not exceed 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.
  4. Moderate-income customers may be considered for a grant under this Program if their gross annual household income is at or below 80 percent of the area median income as most recently determined by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
  1. Provides financial assistance to low-income and moderate-income customers of Delmarva Power who are experiencing difficulty paying their electric bills.
  2. This grant can be paired with LIHEAP, MEAP, EUSP, Emergency Assistance or any other energy assistance program.

What can we do?

  1. Educate
    1. Be a resource
  2. Arrearages Management Program
    1. The utility forgives the arrearage if the customer consistently pays for new utility charges over a period of time (often one year; sometimes longer). As the customer makes regular, on-time payments on new utility charges, a portion of the arrears is forgiven. When all payments for new charges have been made over the length of the plan, the arrears is totally cancelled and the customer has a clean slate.
  3. Legislation

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