The Maryland Public Service Commission on Friday scheduled a hearing on the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s installation of external gas regulators, the latest development in a monthslong dispute between the utility and city residents who are concerned about the safety of the devices.
The commission, which regulates utilities and oversees BGE, said the hearing is meant to allow people involved in the dispute to make comments and provide information on the regulators, and to discuss issues such as public safety and the “economics of the projects in accordance with state law,” according to a Friday news release.
The hearing is scheduled for Aug. 15, the release said. Afterward, the commission “will determine what additional proceedings, if any, are needed.”
The move comes a week after a Baltimore City Circuit Court judge issued a 10-day restraining order against BGE, prohibiting the company from installing external regulators and cutting gas service to homes whose owners do not consent to the regulators.
The judge has since extended that restraining order to 60 days, and said the court would hold a status hearing on Sep. 5, according to a Friday press release from Thiru Vignarajah, the former Maryland deputy attorney general who is representing a group of residents in the case.
Residents in South and Southeast Baltimore have faced off with BGE officials for months, opposed to the company’s project to replace more than 11,200 indoor gas regulators with external ones by the end of 2031.
Earlier this week, residents in West Baltimore joined a lawsuit against the regulators, saying their opposition to them predates the current controversy.
They say they are worried about the safety of external regulators if cars and scooters crash into them. Vehicular damage is a primary cause of serious gas accidents, according to data from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration under the U.S. Department of Transportation.
They are also opposed to BGE shutting off gas service to people who do not consent to the installation of external regulators. Three residents were arrested in late June while protesting in Federal Hill after the utility company shut off gas service to at least four properties there.
The judge ruled last week that BGE had to restore gas service to those houses where it had shut off service.
Vignarajah told The Banner on Friday evening he is encouraged by the commission hearing.
“BGE has been bullying and bulldozing its way across communities in Baltimore for months, for years, and this campaign, this unlawful campaign needs to be investigated,” he said.
Vignarajah said he anticipates residents will attend the hearing to share stories and data. They hope to voice their concerns with service cutoffs for homeowners who refuse to consent to an external regulator, he said, and the utility company’s push to install the regulators “at the expense of historic homes and the best interests of homeowners.”
In a statement, BGE spokesperson Talon Sachs said the company could not comment on pending litigation, but wrote that the utility’s work had been “reviewed and approved” by the commission, “was granted a permit by Baltimore City, and is in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, and BGE standards.”
“BGE continues to believe that this work is in the best interest of our customers’ and communities’ safety. BGE, however, will comply with the Court’s decision and will not continue the installation of external gas regulators unless directed otherwise by the Maryland Public Service Commission,” the statement said.
The utility company has repeatedly said the regulators comply with the Flower Branch Act, which calls for the installation of the devices in multifamily dwellings after an explosion in an apartment complex in 2016 killed seven people.
Between the lawsuit, media coverage, public interest and commission hearing, Vignarajah said he’s “optimistic” that the “way in which BGE has been doing business for too long, is finally going to be rectified.”
Reporter Clara Longo de Freitas contributed to this report.