State representatives and advocates voice need to protect Delawarean consumers

WILMINGTON – Declaring that recession-recovering families cannot afford it, lawmakers and advocates representing low-, middle- and fixed-income Delawareans gathered Tuesday to protest Delmarva Power’s latest request to increase electric rates by $42 million.

A bipartisan coalition of 20 representatives sent a letter to the Public Service Commission Tuesday objecting to Delmarva Power’s persistent filings for rate increases. Delmarva’s latest request is its third request in a three-year span to increase electric service rates and has sparked public outcry in Delaware.

“These requests, along with $25 million to replace obsolete smart meters, total approximately $130 million. The three latest approved increases totaled approximately $70 million, which have been borne by struggling households,” the letter states. “The requested $42 million rate increase, representing a 19.6-percent increase on the delivery side of the bill, would be yet another dramatic rise in ratepayers’ bills and is very alarming. As our state slowly recovers from recession, Delaware families do not have the resources to pay more for electricity every time Delmarva Power asks for a rate increase. In light of this fact, we oppose this latest request in the interest of low-, middle- and fixed-income families who simply cannot afford it.”

In opposing this most recent rate increase request, Newark Rep. John Kowalko noted that Pepco Holdings, Delmarva’s parent company, has indicated that it wants to speed up the utility’s collection for planned infrastructure improvements in Delaware. This latest increase is being proposed at a time when Pepco is posting a quarterly profit of $43 million, more than double that of a year ago.

“Over the last several years, we’ve seen the same scenario play out: Delmarva Power comes before the Public Service Commission, requests a large rate increase, is granted a slightly smaller increase, then comes back with another request,” said Rep. Kowalko, D-Newark. “The part of the story that isn’t told is that ratepayers not only foot the bill for the rate increases that are granted, but they also pay for the analysis and process the PSC and Delmarva must go through every time Delmarva files a rate increase request.

“All of the legislators who signed this letter have said that we represent Delaware families who are struggling and have nothing left to give. They are still hurting from the recession, and every rate increase that Delmarva requests forces them to make tougher choices about their limited financial resources. These legislators and groups have joined together in an effort to stop Delmarva from reaching into Delawareans’ pockets once again.”

Michael A. Begatto, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 81, said AFSCME members already feel the financial strain of recent Delmarva increases. AFSCME represents more than 7,000 working women and men throughout the state, many of whom are receiving public assistance because of their present wages.

“The harsh economic times have been especially hard on our membership as they have taken pay cuts, paid higher health care costs and have had to pay higher prices for the essentials of life. Utilities are one of those essentials,” Mr. Begatto said. “As utilities continue to pass on their costs to consumers, consumers are forced to make tough decisions about what they can and cannot afford. We oppose these persistent and constant rate increases because they only exacerbate the existing financial burdens on AFSCME members as well as the general public.”

AFSCME, the Delaware Alliance for Community Advancement (DACA), SEIU Local 32, the Delaware chapter of the National Organization for Women, the Progressive Democrats of Delaware, the New Castle County Civic League, the Southern New Castle County Alliance, the Caesar Rodney Institute, the 25th Representative District Democratic Committee, Delaware chapter of Americans for Democratic Action, the Coalition of Community Organizations, Plan Delaware and Citizens for the Greater Good have all expressed their dismay at Delmarva’s latest rate increase request.

“As the representative of an organization that has historically represented low-income families, I can say unequivocally that this rate increase is unacceptable,” said DACA executive director Darlene Battle, “Increasing electric service rates will devastate families in the state of Delaware. There’s no two ways about it.”

Lawmakers in all three counties and from both political parties signed onto the letter sent to the Public Service Commission, noting that struggling families are already being forced to make difficult decisions with limited finances, and another utility bill increase will only make things more difficult.

“To say I am concerned about this rate increase request is an understatement. My constituents are already feeling the strain of the other recent increases and I just can’t believe Delmarva is coming back for more,” said Rep. James “J.J.” Johnson, D-Jefferson Farms. “A utility bill is a major part of a household’s budget and the cost just keeps rising. I don’t know how to tell the people of my district that these increases are justified when the prices for gas and power are actually going down.”

Reps. Kowalko, Johnson, John Atkins, Paul Baumbach, Andria Bennett, Donald Blakey, Stephanie T. Bolden, Gerald Brady, Debra Heffernan, Earl Jaques, Helene Keeley, Valerie Longhurst, Joseph Miro, Larry Mitchell, Michael Mulrooney, Ed Osienski, Charles Potter, Jr., Michael Ramone, Kim Williams and John Viola all signed the letter to the Public Service Commission.