The Maryland Public Service Commission, in a July 8 notice, said that it is convening a “Public Conference 53 to elicit information from Maryland utilities and stakeholders to better understand the impacts to date of the” COVID-19 pandemic on utilities and the services they provide.
The commission noted that Maryland, since March 5, has operated under a state of emergency in an effort to control and prevent the spread of COVID-19, which the commission said “is a respiratory disease that spreads easily from person to person and may result in serious illness or death.”
The economic impacts of COVID-19, within Maryland and the United States, are significant and likely to last into the future, the commission said, adding that it finds that information related to the impacts of the pandemic, and resulting economic disruption on Maryland utilities and ratepayers, is necessary in order to begin post-pandemic planning.
The commission said that it poses certain questions to Maryland electric utilities, other than municipal and small rural electric cooperatives, as well as all Maryland gas utilities. The commission said that those questions include:
- What operational changes has the utility made in response to the pandemic and the associated state and local executive orders and recommendations of the public health community? In the future, what are the utility’s plans for transitioning back to normal operations?
- What impacts, if any, has COVID-19 had on utility storm readiness and mutual assistance preparedness planning?
- How has the pandemic and its associated repercussions, such as stay-at-home orders and broad economic slowdowns, impacted system usage, load projections and other reliability considerations? In addition, how is the utility assessing and preparing for such changing circumstances as re-openings or potential returns to more restrictive measures?
- How has the pandemic impacted the utility’s customer payment behaviors? How does the utility plan to handle the financial impacts of the prohibition on terminations as well as the resumption of terminations, when appropriate? Beyond the governor’s prohibition, what policies and procedures has the utility developed to handle increasing numbers of customers who are unable to pay utility bills? How will the utility insure that customer protections provided in Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) are honored, including appropriate notice to customers regarding payment options?
The commission said that utilities are to file responses to the questions by Aug. 11, and that interested parties may file comments — on the utilities’ responses, as well as addressing “Question 8,” which states, “What regulatory actions would the utility, or other parties, suggest the commission consider to mitigate and continue monitoring the impacts of COVID-19 on Maryland utilities and ratepayers?” — by Aug. 21.
Among other things, the commission said that it will conduct a virtual legislative-style hearing on Aug. 27 and Aug. 28, for the purpose of reviewing the utilities’ responses to the questions and comments received from interested parties.