State Director, Maryland PIRG Foundation
State Director, Maryland PIRG Foundation
Baltimore – Rather than continue to greenlight multi-million-dollar gas utility capital spending projects that may soon become obsolete, a coalition of more than 20 consumer advocate, public health experts, interfaith, climate and environmental organizations are calling on the Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) to open a proceeding to require utilities to better plan for the future. Maryland residents are on the hook to pay back billions of dollars in spending to replace the state’s aging methane gas system, which would cost more than $2 billion in Baltimore City alone.
“The cost of maintaining Maryland’s fossil fuel gas infrastructure is already reaching unaffordable levels for many Marylanders, driving up the cost of monthly energy bills for millions of households,” said Susan Stevens Miller, a senior attorney for Earthjustice. “At a time when Maryland is making ambitious climate goals to become net-zero by 2045 and Governor Wes Moore has joined a pledge to quadruple the number of heat pumps in 25 states by 2030, it is irresponsible for Maryland regulators to continually approve spending to replace fossil fuel infrastructure that will soon be obsolete. The PSC must open a proceeding into the future of gas in Maryland to finally bring utility spending in line with the state’s climate goals.”
Advocates warn that gas utilities have prioritized profits over safety by spending gas customer money on expensive capital spending programs, rather than on maintenance. This spending is particularly concerning to low-income advocates because ratepayers will be left paying for the system for decades past its planned use. A recent analysis from the Office of People’s Counsel found that BGE is spending more than $6,000 per home on its gas equipment program, and plans to recover that investment – with guaranteed profits for its investors – at an average cost of at least $19,000 per house. Thanks to this spending, the average Baltimore Gas & Electric customer will see their energy bill rise 56% by 2035 before accounting for the price of gas itself, which has increased nearly 40% in the past 10 years. Consumer advocates worry customers will be unable to bear these escalating costs.
“Gas utilities are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on fossil fuel pipeline projects, and without intervention from the PSC, Marylanders will be left footing the bill,” said Emily Scarr, director for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group. “While the utilities are legally obligated to maintain the safety and reliability of the system, the juice isn’t worth the squeeze with these massive infrastructure upgrades. Rather than continuing to let this fossil fuel spending go unchecked, the PSC must stand up for Maryland residents and make sure our utilities invest wisely in infrastructure that helps us transition to clean, efficient electricity to power our homes.”
Fossil fuels that are burned in Maryland’s homes and buildings make up more than 13% of the state’s climate emissions. Accelerating the adoption of highly efficient electric equipment such as heat pumps can help Maryland meet the goals, set forth in the 2022 Climate Solutions Now Act (CSNA), to achieve net-zero direct emissions in buildings by 2040, while reducing harmful air pollution in and outside the home. Already, more than 50% of homes are on track to adopt highly efficient electric alternatives like heat pumps by 2030 and in September, Gov. Moore joined a coalition of 24 governors to commit to quadrupling the number of heat pumps in 25 states by 2030. As more households continue to upgrade their homes with clean energy, advocates urge the PSC to ensure utilities invest in infrastructure in line with these ambitious climate goals, instead of spending customer money on outdated fossil fuel infrastructure.
“Right now, Maryland state leaders should put all of their efforts toward helping residents upgrade their homes with clean energy while protecting residents from the consequences of our fossil gas system,” concluded Josh Tulkin, director of the Maryland chapter of the Sierra Club. “Maryland regulators shouldn’t force residents to pay for an increasingly expensive system that continues to pollute our air, harm our health, and drive our climate emissions. By bringing utility spending in line with our climate goals, Maryland regulators can jumpstart a managed, phased approach to upgrade homes with clean energy across the state.”