Electric Utility Bills Top Legislative Priorities For Berlin

BERLIN – Legislation impacting the electric utility, the future of Heron Park and the lingering effects of COVID-19 were among the concerns shared with members of the Eastern Shore Delegation by Berlin officials.

Mayor Zack Tyndall and members of the Berlin Town Council met via Zoom with Sen. Mary Beth Carozza, Del. Wayne Hartman and Del. Charles Otto last Thursday. The delegation assured municipal leaders they’d continue to advocate for their constituents, particularly as COVID-19 recovery occurred.

“We’ll be working, as we have done on these other relief announcements, to make sure as it flows from the federal government to the state to the counties that we make sure our locals have access to that relief,” Carozza said.

Tyndall told the delegation that one of the chief concerns facing the town, which operates one of five municipal electric utilities in the state, was requirements related to Renewable Portfolio Standards. Though the town and its fellow municipal electric utilities account for 1% of the state’s entire electric usage and customer base, the municipalities are expected to still purchase renewable energy credits.

“This places us at a large disadvantage when we’re out on the market competing against larger co-ops and for-profit companies for these renewable energy credits on the open market,” Tyndall said. “Those are passed along in the form of higher costs to our customers.”

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Though a bill to cap renewable energy credits for municipal electric operations was introduced last year, it wasn’t passed before COVID-19 impacted the legislative session. Tyndall said a bill had been pre-filed for the next session. He said if a cap was put on the requirements for municipalities, Berlin’s electric customers would save $2 million from 2021 to 2030.

“Please keep an eye out on that as you’re in session,” he said. “It’s a huge savings for our customers.”

David Gaskill, the town’s attorney, added that the way the renewable energy credit program stood now, Berlin was being treated like a major electric company.

“The reason that this legislation was passed is because it was pointed at private, for-profit electric companies,” Gaskill said. “For some reason the co-ops got opted out to pay less but the five municipal electric companies did not. We’re being treated like we’re BG&E.”

Otto praised the town for its commitment to maintaining its electric utility.

“I think that’s important for your ratepayers, your consumers and your citizens to have that utility there,” he said.

Tyndall told the delegation another issue he wanted to bring attention to was the aging Flower Street Multi-Purpose Building. He said the town would be working with the Berlin Community Improvement Association and Shore Up to bring the facility back to life.

“It’s in need of some repairs,” Tyndall said. “The building really needs some improvements on the inside. We need to have a good community discussion about where we want to go next with the property. For the longest time that’s been a vibrant part of our community and since it’s come into some disrepair I think that’s gone somewhat by the wayside. We’re missing an entire generation that used to have a place to be able to come and gather and that’s no more.”

As expected, COVID-19 was also a part of Thursday’s discussion. Tyndall said municipal officials just wanted the delegation to keep municipalities like Berlin in mind as new recovery initiatives and relief packages were issued.

Hartman said the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine to area hospitals was a step in the right direction. Carozza said COVID-19 recovery would be a major issue during the coming legislative session.

“We have been able, we meaning the Eastern Shore delegation and those of us who are on certain committees, have elevated the COVID-19 small business recovery as a top priority…,” she said. “We know that this session will have limited in-person access, but we want to make sure you know you have availability to us. Our weekly Friday morning delegation meetings will continue by Zoom.”

Tyndall said the final topic he wanted to address was Heron Park. He said the town had applied for a $578,000 grant to help fund the demolition of the large building at the former Tyson property. He urged delegation members to offer any support they could to that project.

“It would go a long way for our local economy,” he said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.