Town Electric Bills Questioned

BERLIN – Berlin electric customers pay more for power than any other electric customers in the state and one elected official wants to know why.

“Currently we are paying the highest rates in the state of Maryland,” said Council member Ellen Lang said at Monday night’s town council meeting.

The supply costs are reasonable, Lang said. The Berlin electric utility relies on in-house engineering and has two deliberately unfilled positions on the electric line crew, both of which save money. The culprit must lay in operations and maintenance or salaries, Lang felt. “Something is ascrew,” Lang said.

Lang asked for a rate study to determine the problem and, if possible, reduce costs.

Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary said staff could complete the rate case study in 30 days.

Lang also asked that staff look into wind power contracts, to determine if that would be feasible, and just what would be available to the town. Buying renewable energy credits directly vs. paying into a renewable energy program could also create savings, Lang said.

Bambary concurred that it might be advisable to buy renewable energy credits directly rather than going through a program.

“We’ve got to do whatever we can do to help people in this town, myself included,” Lang said.

Council member Dean Burrell wondered if quality control measures on meter reading could save money, mentioning rereading of meters during billing disputes.

“I’d have to do some research on that,” Bambary said.

The new wireless meter reading system the town plans to add would cut down on time lost in rereading meters, said Bambary. Most rereads are done for water, not electric.

When the new finance director is hired and comes on board, that hire can look into quality control, Bambary said.

Meter reading is the task of electric utility line crew employees, Lang noted, and wondered if that was the best use of their time.

“They’re probably the highest paid employees in the town,” Lang said.

“You’ve got lineman actually walking around, reading meters. That bothers me,” said Council member Elroy Brittingham.

Wireless meter readings would eliminate this problem, among others, Bambary said. Purchase of that automatic reading system is waiting on a cost benefit analysis of adding the new meters, which could cost as much as $700,000.