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Electric Jitters Reflected in PSC Comments

November 21, 2011

BALTIMORE - The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) is proposing regulations for electric companies which target reliability and service quality - and the state's senior set has some strong opinions.

AARP Maryland's message to the PSC: "We can do better."

The PSC requested input on new regulations, and AARP Maryland gauged member concerns. It found that customer service is a top issue, especially in light of recent storm-related extended power outages.

AARP Maryland state director Hank Greenberg says electric utilities should not just plan for major outages. They also should have plans for restoration, he says, and the public needs to be able to see the plans.

"Folks feel very insecure. There's security and safety issues related to those power outages that I know have surfaced in the last few months."

Costs are on the list of concerns, too, according to Greenberg. About 13,000 AARP Maryland members participated in a recent telephonic town hall about electric-utility issues.

Communicating with the public is another top issue with seniors, Greenberg says, whether dealing with questions about bills or outages.

"The things we hear about a lot: Is the phone answered by a machine, rather than by a person; how long they have to wait to get the information; and then, finally, how accurate the information is."

The call-center service standard, he says, is that customers should be able to speak with a representative within about 30 seconds - even during times of high demand, such as Mondays and during outages.

The PSC is to hold a public hearing on the proposed regulations next month. Details of the proposal, "Service Supplied by Electric Companies - Proposed Reliability and Service Quality Standards," COMAR 20.50, Rulemaking Docket RM 43, are online at webapp.psc.state.md.us.

Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD