The Baltimore Gas and Electric Fitzell substation in Baltimore County. Photo by Ian Morton For NPR.

Electric utility companies in Maryland want the state regulator to remove several consumer protection measures enacted during the coronavirus pandemic. Utilities were barred from terminating electric service until October 2020. But utilities were required to enter into payment plans up to two years for low-income residents which pauses the disconnection process. Consumer advocates say the economic toll of the pandemic lingers and has been exacerbated by record high inflation so it’s too early to return to ‘business as normal’.

The Maryland Public Service Commission has scheduled a public hearing on Nov. 10 to determine whether the extended protections for residents should continue.

For example, before the pandemic utilities gave 14 days notice before shutting off power to a residential property. Since August 2020, utilities were forced by the state to give 45 days notice but not for anyone on a payment plan. This month, state regulators decided utilities must give 30 days notice before shutting off the electricity.

Utilities must offer 12-month payment plans instead of 24 months for low-income residents. In addition, the state will continue to prohibit deposits for those enrolled in payment plans. But if residential customers default on their payment plan, the commission doesn’t allow rolling over into a new plan anymore.

In June, utility providers statewide complained to the commission that COVID-19 relief money which paid down much of the old residential debt had run out. State lawmakers passed the RELIEF Act allocating $83 million to utilities to cover electric bills in default in June 2021.

“However, since that time customer arrearages have steadily increased,” wrote Jessica Raba, assistant general counsel for Baltimore Gas and Electric Company.

Since then, roughly 179,400 customers have racked up $167 million across all utility companies statewide in past due electric bills, according to a June joint letter by all the utilities operating in the state sent to the commission.

Read more at WYPR.