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Berlin leadership touts dramatic electric rate drop

(March 12, 2015) The high cost of electricity was once an economic albatross around the neck of Berlin, but the message coming out of a Berlin Mayor and Council meeting on Monday was that those days are long gone.
“I consistently check electric rates and how Berlin compares to the other towns,” District 1 Councilmember Troy Purnell said. “Today, when I looked at it again, Berlin has got the cheapest per-kilowatt hour rate.
“I hate hearing from so many people, ‘Oh, Berlin utility rates are too high,’ Purnell continued. “It’s just not true.”
Mayor Gee Williams said that as recently as 2008, Berlin’s rates were the highest in the region, and possibly on the entire East Coast.
“That’s when we began the aggressive tackling of the issue,” he said.
In 2008, the town hired Raleigh, N.C. electrical engineering consulting firm Booth and Associates Inc. in an attempt to lower rates.
Three years later, the mayor and council approved several power purchase agreements to reduce and stabilize rates. In 2012, Berlin went a step further, asking the Maryland Public Service Commission to lower rates more than 11 percent for nonresidents, a move designed to attract new business.
“I don’t think we’re done yet trying to reduce the power [rates],” Williams said.
Purnell noted that the town offers free energy audits.
“I think a lot of people have forgotten that,” he said. “Every time somebody says, ‘Oh my heat, my electric bill is this high.’ I say, ‘well have you had an energy audit done?’”
Williams said the energy audit opens the door to new tax credits and advised homeowners to perform upgrades in phases.
“Some people may be intimidated by thinking they have to spend thousands of dollars all at once,” he said. “Maybe just replacing a window … take one thing at a time.”
Electric Utilities Director Tim Lawrence said he performs at least one audit per month and that he expects that number to rise following the issuance of February electric bills.
“The positive reduction in our rates is not just a happenstance and it’s not magic,” District 2 Councilmember Dean Burrell said.
“It has come about because, I think, the leadership of our mayor, the support of our council and the skill and hard work of our staff. Folks need to know that this reduction was not magic, but it was purposeful by our efforts,” he said.