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Volume XVII, Issue 8 - February 19 - February 25, 2009
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Letter From the Editor

We’re Mad as Hell About Utility Bills!

I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!

You may not remember the 1976 movie Network in which Peter Finch shouted that declaration. But the line lives. It’s what we all say when outrage, accumulated insult by insult, overflows into action.

It’s what citizen after citizen meant, and some said, in a near-riotous public meeting convened by Baltimore Gas and Electric in Chesapeake Beach Town Hall on Valentine’s Day. The utility thought the purpose of its meeting was to explain its billing statements and practices. The couple of hundred Calvert ratepayers — as the utility calls us — who packed the town hall over the course of two and a half vocal hours had other ideas.

Midway through the meeting, the cops came.

That’s about the time the utility and its handful of front-line soldiers gave up their Power Point agenda and handed the meeting over to town mayor Bruce Wahl, who quelled the riot by letting the people speak. Which they eloquently did. Ratepayers lined up to detail the insults they’d suffered at the hands of their utility and the outrage — nourished by desperation — they felt. Whether they made their arguments by logic or rhetoric, all were articulate. Many had researched their statements and documented their complaints with stacks of bills and matrixes of comparison.

Even so, Wahl banged notches in the three-decade-old gavel his father had used, never so aggressively, to bring order to Kiwanis Club meetings. For the seated and standing audience acted the chorus, cheering each speaker and peppering each BGE responder with new reasons for being mad as hell.

The complaints: Skyrocketing rates that never fall, despite conscientious energy efficiency; erratic metering; form-letter responses; a corporate culture of arrogance and greed; political complicity.

“We don’t read at home anymore because we’ve turned our lights off,” a retired citizen said. “My rent is two weeks late because I had to pay my electric bill. People are going to have to start living on the streets,” a mother lamented.

Anger was the fuse that energized action. Soon citizens were calling for change — in BGE, in the region’s utility structure, in the sources of our energy, in the remedies contrived by politicians and in the politicians who contrive them.

“Times have changed, and people are not stupid anymore,” said Roger Otchere, of Breezy Point. “If you don’t take this message back, the next time you’ll have 10,000 people out, asking to switch.”

“Democracy at work,” was how Del. Sue Kullen — one of at least 14 state, county and local elected officials on hand — described the meeting.

On Valentine’s Day, the people spoke and the politicians listened.

Now, the politicians had better act. For, as another citizen, Pat Martin, challenged, with tears in her voice: “We need your help. What are you going to do about it?”

       Sandra Olivetti Martin
     editor and publisher


© COPYRIGHT 2009 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.