Three arrests after a standoff that lasted more than eight hours. A teary reaction over a judge’s decision siding with residents. A scrutinizing hearing at which a resident said the city is “one TikTok video away” from catastrophe.

All in response to a plan by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., or BGE, to install gas regulators on the outside of people’s homes, to the consternation of residents of several neighborhoods.

The monthslong saga has resulted in a lawsuit on behalf of more than 120 people, City Council hearings, and a ruling by the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation, or CHAP, that prohibits the outdoor regulators, which maintain a set pressure in a gas system. The state’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities like BGE, decided Tuesday that residents could choose whether the regulators are installed outside our inside their homes.

The situation can be complicated even for those following it closely. We break down how it came to be and how it could impact consumers.

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What are gas regulators and why does BGE want to put them outside houses?

Regulators are devices that maintain a set pressure in a gas system, and, if you live in an older home or apartment complex, one is likely in your basement. The utility company has been relocating them outside, often to the façades of rowhouses, since at least October of last year.

In 2016, a faulty gas regulator in the basement of the Flower Branch Apartments in Silver Spring caused a leak and an explosion that killed seven people and injured dozens. After an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, the state passed legislation in 2021 — the Flower Branch Act — calling on utility companies to relocate regulators outside of all multifamily dwellings with more than six units.

The law doesn’t apply to rowhouses, but BGE sees it as “a signal that Maryland lawmakers believe the case for outdoor regulators is significantly compelling,” according to its spokesperson.

Residents, though, don’t buy it.

Why are some residents against it?

Many of the residents who have spoken against the regulators live in historic districts, such as Fells Point and Federal Hill. Sidewalks on those streets, residents say, are not compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act. A gas regulator on their doorsteps could set up the neighborhood for disaster, they argue, especially if a vehicle or scooter crashes into the device.

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Residents want to keep the internal regulators and opt for external vents, which they said would prevent gas from building up in their basements.

Federal guidance on external regulators is more nuanced and indicates that BGE should be taking a case-by-case approach.

Who are the other players?

BGE’s plans and proposals need to go through the PSC.

The Office of People’s Counsel, an independent agency that advocates for consumers, keeps BGE and the commissioners in check. It has long advocated against what it sees as unnecessary rate increases and policies that go against the state’s plans to address climate change.

Politics are at play too. Zeke Cohen, a City Council member who is running for City Council president, and Eric Costello, a City Council member who is running for reelection to the 11th District, have introduced bills related to BGE. Claudia Towles, who is running to represent the 1st District, was one of the women arrested in a standoff with BGE when the utility tried to install outside regulators in Federal Hill.

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How do potential rate increases play into the battle over regulators?

This summer, Cohen introduced a bill that called on state officials to reject a BGE plan to increase gas costs for customers over the next three years. People wondered if it was related to the gas regulators.

Usually, BGE proposes gas infrastructure replacement projects through a Strategic Infrastructure Development and Enhancement Plan. Starting this year, BGE has proposed all of its investments and plans together through a multiyear plan.

The People’s Counsel’s David Lapp argues that how useful the investment will be for customers is speculative. BGE has told the PSC the rate increases are needed to pay for the regulators and investments over the next three years and that the work is about safety and not profitability. The utility company faces no consequences if the project ends up costing less, he said.

An Office of People’s Counsel report released in June estimates that the plan, if approved, would increase average gas distribution rates by 61%. Gas rates would increase by 70% during winter and average electric costs by 44% from 2020 to 2026.

BGE disputes these numbers and says monthly residential bills for combination electric and gas customers will increase by an average of $10.36 a month in each of the three plan years, or $124.32 per year.

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The exterior placement of gas regulators infrastructure replacement project will cost $5 million per year from 2024 to 2026, or an additional 3 cents per month on each gas customer’s bill. The average cost of relocating or replacing a gas regulator is $6,343, according to the Office of People’s Counsel. These costs are passed to customers, as BGE earns a return to replace infrastructure but doesn’t make money from operational or maintenance costs.

What about that deal the mayor signed with BGE?

In February, Mayor Brandon Scott and BGE signed a deal that caused a lot of turmoil at City Hall. Many city officials, including members of the City Council, City Council President Nick Mosby and City Comptroller Bill Henry, thought the deal happened too quickly and without enough scrutiny.

The deal allows BGE to receive access to the city-owned underground conduit by paying for repairs to the network instead of directly paying city fees. It does not have much to do with gas regulators, other than being part of the same multiyear plan.

Where do we stand?

Earlier this summer, the plaintiffs of the lawsuit won their first battle in Circuit Court, with a temporary restraining order on BGE.

Last month, CHAP voted against the installation of external gas regulators on properties that have fewer than six units in historic districts. The city’s Law Department determined CHAP staff has the authority to disapprove these installations, though it can’t disapprove the exterior installation of gas regulators if the home is getting new gas service or if the property has six or more housing units.

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Instead, CHAP said residents in those districts could get the internal gas regulators with external vents, which they have been asking for and which BGE has said are safe.

There’s also a pending City Council bill banning external gas regulators.

In a decision released Tuesday, the PSC said residents could decide if they wanted regulators installed on the exterior or interior of their homes. The commission also noted that, because it has regulatory authority over BGE, its decision supersedes the actions taken by local officials.

Hours after the PSC’s decision was released, Baltimore Circuit Judge John S. Nugent said the plaintiffs could file an amended complaint by the close of business on Friday.

Thiru Vignarajah, a former Maryland deputy attorney general who’s representing neighbors in the lawsuit, said he will seek a remedy for the 100 or so people who had an external regulator installed against their wishes. It could include a reversal of the installation.

“This is an incredible victory that the residents have scored,” Vignarajah said outside the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse. “It’s a victory that people just a couple months ago thought was improbable — against the odds — that everyone predicted BG&E would bulldoze over these residents, just the way they had bulldozed through communities across Baltimore.”

BGE said it is reviewing the PSC’s decision.

“The safety of our customers drives every decision we make, including our stance that placing gas regulators outdoors is safer because it reduces the risk of a catastrophic gas event,” the utility said.