Initiative Mandates Berlin Electric Reduction

BERLIN – Berlin must reduce its energy use by 15 percent in the next seven years, according to the Maryland Public Service Commission.

The town must decrease electricity usage by 2015 under a state initiative called EmPower Maryland.

Public education will be a key component of the reduction, Berlin’s Administrative Director Linda Bambary said.

Berlin Mayor Tom Cardinale suggested a meeting between staff, the electric utility department and citizens to advise on power saving.

“Little things, you’d be amazed,” Cardinale said of appliances like cell phones and computer printers, commonly called ‘vampire’ devices. “You’d be surprised how much energy these things suck up.”

In an unrelated change, Berlin’s electric power cost adjustment (PCA) charge will now be reassessed every three months, instead of annually.

“By doing it every three months, we hope to have a more stable PCA [Power Cost Adjustment],” said Bambary.

The PCA is a fee that covers the difference between the established electricity rates and the actual cost to produce or purchase the electricity.

At the beginning of the year, energy costs are estimated and a PCA established, and the actual costs are reviewed at year’s end.

“The PCA would change as things change,” said Council Vice President Gee Williams. “It never gets too far behind.”

Cardinale said, “reviewing it every 90 days takes the sting out as well.”

The Berlin electric utility’s rates have not changed in six years, since 2002, and have not kept pace with dramatically rising energy costs, creating a gap between customer payments and costs.

The town reduced the PCA rate in April 2007, from $58.11 per thousand kilowatt hours, to $47.22 per thousand kilowatt hours.

The quarterly reassessment could save ratepayers money by being more accurate.

While Berlin electric customers may see a break in their PCA charges with the regular reassessments, they will continue to pay market rates for energy until a new power supply agreement is approved.

The town was late getting into an agreement, after the failed Berlin electric system sale and did not get credit for possessing the generators at the power plant, making the town subject to excessive capacity charges, she said.

“Even if the generators don’t run, just having ‘em there, we get a credit for that,” Bambary said.

A plan to add wireless electricity and water meters will not directly save customers money, but will reduce some costs for Berlin.

The regular meters will be replaced over three years with wireless models that can be read without requiring staff to walk onto a property to read them. “We can drive by and do it, and some of the vendors said they could put a satellite on the roof,” Bambary said.

The meters will save time, as meter readers will not have to read each meter by walking from house to house.

“On the electric side, we have five meter readers. It takes them two days,” said Bambary.         

The new system will be more efficient, she said.

“If you cut down on man hours, can you cut down on staff?” asked Councilwoman Paula Lynch.

“No. This is part of not having to hire,” Bambary said.

“This is not going to be paid for by the consumer, is it?” Cardinale asked.

“Well, yes,” Bambary said. Customers are already paying for it, she explained.

Payment for the wireless meters will come from bond bill funding from three years ago, and customers are already paying the debt service on that money.