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Questions for lawmakers

June 08, 2006

If the members of the Maryland General Assembly have any sense of responsibility to their constituents, they will answer the following questions before a special session opens next week:

If you were in the legislature in 1999, why did you believe electricity deregulation was a good idea?

And, if you have served in Annapolis since then, why did it take you so long to figure out that deregulation wasn't working out as planned?

The first person who should be called on to answer those questions is Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, who was co-sponsor of his chamber's version of the electricity restructuring bill.

Miller has been calling for a special session in the wake of a decision by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to raise rates by 72 percent for 1.1 million of its residential customers beginning July 1.

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BGE isn't offering much in the way of possible relief. Under its plan, those who defer the rate increase would still have to pay the full cost later, plus 5 percent interest.

Miller and the other members of the leadership have painted themselves into a corner. In 1999, they bet that by 2006, the market would provide power at a price consumers would be grateful to pay.

It didn't quite work out that way, and as Tom Stuckey, veteran Annapolis correspondent for The Associated Press, wrote this week, "the cost of electricity has risen sharply since 1999 and BGE is entitled to recoup its costs and make a profit."

It seems clear that Miller and company want to cast Gov. Robert Ehrlich as the bad guy here and replace his nominees on the Public Service Commission with others of their own choosing.

If Ehrlich wanted to beat them at their own game, he would agree to their restructuring of the PSC - provided they guaranteed it would provide rate relief.

It's hard to see how such action today could change the events that were put in motion in 1999. Power companies can't just go back to the way business was done in the early 1990s, because the legislation required them to divest themselves of their generating plants.

All of this is of interest to residents of this area because a similar residential cap on Allegheny Energy rates will expire in 2008.

How lawmakers deal with the BGE increase now will probably provide a model for how to mitigate Allegheny power rate increases in this region in 2008. who backed deregulation.

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