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Special session to eye electric rate proposal

June 15, 2006

Yesterday the Maryland General Assembly began a special session aimed at curbing a 72 percent rate hike set to take place July 1 for many Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers.

We wish the lawmakers well, but it would have been nice if those who favored power deregulation in 1999 had opened the session by owning up to their bad call.

As a penance for that, it would also be good if lawmakers saw fit to allow local governments to negotiate better rates for their citizens. The power companies hate this idea and are pushing to keep the practice illegal.

As proposed, the latest electricity regulation bill would allow BGE to raise rates by only 15 percent for the next 11 months.

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To compensate BGE for that loss, residential electricity customers would pay an extra $2 per month.

The utility argues that unless it can raise rates to market levels by January 2008, its credit rating would be in jeopardy.

Other, more partisan aspects of the bill would dismiss the current members of the Public Service Commission and have the legislature name new members. The People's Counsel, who looks out for consumers' interests, would serve at the pleasure of the attorney general.

Whether this bill is the best answer is unknown now, because what should have been a reasoned debate about this issue a year ago has instead become a hurry-up effort to avoid bad press in an election year - and give the governor a few whacks in the process.

And although there has been an attempt to cast this issue along party lines, the truth is that the 1999 legislation was backed by Republicans and Democrats.

A majority of both houses accepted the proposition that more competition would lead to cheaper electricity and the governor at that time, a Democrat, signed it into law.

The idea that Gov. Robert Ehrlich is responsible for events set in motion long before he took office is absurd.

His Republican counterparts who were in state office in 1999 should help Ehrlich by acknowledging now their own role in what happened way back then.

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