Delmarva Power’s 138,000 natural gas customers in Delaware can expect their second rate decrease this year in November, as cold weather begins approaching.
In addition, the utility’s 324,000 electric customers — which includes gas users — will likely get a refund early next from an electric distribution increase that took effect in July.
That’s the expected net effect of recent pricing moves by Delaware’s dominant power utility, whose proposals get reviewed by the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC), which has the final say on what customers pay.
The bottom line is that an average residential customer that uses both natural gas and electric will pay roughly $10 less monthly.
By contrast, the average electric-only residential customer has been paying about $10 more monthly since mid-July. But those users can expect a refund of perhaps a few dollars a month come January, said Matt Hartigan, the PSC’s executive director.
Both the PSC and the Delaware Division of the Public Advocate have asserted that the amount of the electric hike was unwarranted, and the parties are now negotiating on the refund.
“It is our position that this company is gold-plating their system,” said Andrea Maucher, a Public Advocate utility analyst. “They’re spending too much on their capital, on infrastructure.”
Delmarva spokesperson Candice Womer countered that the company raised the electric distribution rate because it has been spending tens of millions of dollars to keep the system sound.
“We are seeking recovery from money that we spent on the local energy grid to make it stronger and more resilient against our increasingly impactful storms, and investments that we made in our infrastructure, which helps us maintain our reliability and enhance safety,’’ Womer said. “It drives our company’s goal of providing a world class energy experience to our customers.”
Womer noted, for example, that the company has had no problem maintaining services during this week’s suffocating heat wave.
Hartigan said the parties are working toward a compromise.
“Typically, what happens at this point in the [electric] rate case is settlement negotiations occur between all the parties involved in the case, and we end up at a number between what the company thinks it deserves and what the parties think the company deserves.”
“So in January, customers, assuming the amount that is agreed upon is less than the interim rate, customers will receive a small credit on their bill to reflect the smaller increased amount.”
Asked about a potential refund, Womer said the company is “still waiting to see what that final approval will be.”
The gas supply rate isn’t subject to dispute, however, as it reflects the cost the utility pays for natural gas. That rate has been subject to great fluctuations in recent years, and skyrocketed in 2022, but has fallen significantly this year to a five-year low, according to figures supplied by Maucher.
Maucher said that no matter how the electric rate refund dispute turns out, the cost cuts for supplying gas amount to a small blessing for those customers after last winter’s expensive heating season amid high inflation.
“People have been really hurt,’’ Maucher said. “We got calls from folks with $300, $400, $500 bills, and how am I going to pay this with groceries. And they’re talking about reducing the temperature of their house down to like 63 degrees.”
Maucher said that even though gas supply costs are currently lower, her office encourages people “to conserve because it’s better for you to use less.”
Womer said Delmarva Power offers payment plans to customers and even assistance with their bills if they qualify for help. She urged customers to visit the company’s customer support page or to call 800-375-7117 for information about energy assistance programs and services.
“We know that people are struggling to power their homes as well as put gas in their car and they’re seeing the price impacts of supermarkets. So we want our customers to know that we’re looking for every opportunity to reduce costs,” Womer said.
“For customers who are struggling, we urge them to take advantage of the many different ways that they can seek assistance to lower their bills.”
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