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Large County Seeking Legislative Authority For Opt-out Municipal Aggregation 'Pilot' Lasting Seven Years (State Does Not Currently Allow CCAs)

RESA Blasts Proposal As Anti-Consumer Choice

Customers On Expiring Retail Supply Contracts Would Default To Municipal Aggregation, If Not On Auto-renewed Contract

November 25, 2020

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Reporting by Paul Ring •

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Montgomery County in Maryland is again pursuing legislation in the upcoming 2021 session that would authorize it, and it alone, to conduct an opt-out municipal aggregation for electricity under a program, deemed a "pilot", that would last seven years.

Last session, a similar bill (HB561) passed the House but did not pass the Senate

A new bill, currently identified as MC 17, is being considered by Montgomery County for support in 2021. Subject to approval of the County's Council and support of the Montgomery County State delegation, the bill would be given local legislation designation and filed at the general assembly.

Under MC 17, Montgomery County's opt-out municipal aggregation would start on the earlier of its submission of required materials to the PSC, or January 1, 2023, and would end 7 years after the start date, but not sooner than December 31, 2030.

Montgomery County has more than 1 million residents

The Retail Energy Supply Association warned that, "Residents of Montgomery County could be auto-enrolled into a 7-year Community Choice Energy pilot program without their knowledge or consent."

RESA strongly opposes Montgomery County MC 17–21, "for not respecting residents' right to choose its energy supplier."

RESA noted that the proposed legislation will be presented at a Montgomery County Council hearing on December 1 at 7 p.m. EST. County Staff support the bill

"This bill is the definition of anti-consumer choice," said Tony Cusati, Maryland State Chair for RESA. "It's hard to understand why the government wants to sign up consumers to participate, essentially deciding for each of these families what they believe is in their best interest."

RESA said that, "Customers would be notified about the auto-enrollment; however, it is unclear what information will be provided, how it will be provided, or if it will include details on how to opt out."

"RESA is vehemently opposed supporting any legislation that enrolls anyone into a program they did not elect to participate in it," RESA said

"RESA and its members believe this program is equivalent to government slamming," commented Cusati. "Requiring people to opt out of participating would bring undue hardship and confusion to customers - including the elderly. If this program is in the best interest of the community, allow residents to decide that for themselves and make it an opt-in program."

RESA said that, "When House Bill 561 was originally introduced it required at least 20% opt-in participation from Montgomery County residents to begin the pilot program. The latest version of the bill allows legislators to overcome that hurdle, and now puts consumers in a position of having to act to opt out."

Notably, MC 17–21 includes a provision which states that, "except for a contract that automatically renews, at the end of a contract term with an electricity supplier a residential or small commercial electric customer in the jurisdiction of a community choice aggregator shall be automatically enrolled as a participant in the aggregation activities of the community choice aggregator," unless the customer opts out or chooses another supplier or SOS

MC 17–21 also provides that, "based on a determination of the mitigation of volumetric risk, the Commission [PSC] may establish by order or regulation a schedule that may not exceed a period of 2 years, by which a community choice aggregator may transfer load from standard offer service to retail or wholesale contracts under an aggregation plan."

The bill would provide that a county that is forming a community choice aggregator is deemed to have obtained electric customer authorization to retrieve preenrollment usage data for residential and small commercial electric customers in the county.

Under the bill, utilities shall also provide the municipal aggregation with, "any other appropriate billing and electrical load data."

MC 17–21 would also require that, "an electric company shall provide billing services for a community choice aggregator."

Under the bill, "bills sent to electric customers that participate in the aggregation activities of a community choice aggregator shall identify the community choice aggregator as the electricity supplier."

The PSC would be required to develop, among other things:

• procedures by which a community choice aggregator may transfer load from standard offer service to retail or wholesale contracts under an aggregation plan

• the method by which the cost of delinquent accounts of a community choice aggregator may be recovered from customers

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