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Energy bill veto possible

June 16, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

Just when a new plan to provide rate relief for electric customers seemed like a done deal, it might not be so done after all.

Gov. Robert Ehrlich announced Thursday that he plans to conduct a hearing sometime next week before deciding whether to veto a bill passed overwhelmingly Wednesday night by both houses of the General Assembly.

Aimed primarily at Baltimore Gas & Electric, the bill includes a provision for Allegheny Energy and other power suppliers that gives them options for avoiding the 72 percent rate hike BGE customers were facing when regulatory price caps come off July 1.

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But only one local legislator voted for the measure. The other Washington County lawmakers had problems with the bill.

"Obviously, the majority of the delegation voted against the bill," said Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington. Most objected to provisions that charge customers for offsetting the full increase for 11 months without giving them the option to opt out. "It's like buying groceries with your credit card and the state forcing you to pay interest for 10 years," Shank said.

The bill also calls for firing the current appointees to the Public Service Commission, appointed by the governor, and then reconstituting the PSC with input from the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House, which Shank called a "blatant power grab" by the General Assembly.

But Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington, said he believed the bill contained viable options for Allegheny Energy, and he voted for it.

"We came down here for a reason, and that was to fix a problem," Donoghue said. He said that he believes the bill will provide "a healthy cleansing of the PSC." He charged that the current appointees to the commission had "fired all the professional staff" who knew the industry.

Most local legislators believed a bill that passed the House during the regular session in April was a better deal. But that bill died in the Senate.

Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany, said the bill passed during Wednesday's special session "was haphazardly thrown together." He voted against it, he said, because he questioned the legality of collecting the monthly fees for deferring the full rate increase, and because he didn't want to vote for a bill that would "fire these people (on the PSC) for something they're not responsible for."

"I struggled with this one," added Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick, "recognizing that whatever framework we passed would be a road map for Allegheny Power." Weldon said he also believed the bill considered in April was a better bill. "This was a product of lower quality than we produced on April 10," he said.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Washington/Frederick, said he favored another option that "doesn't blow up the PSC." He also objected to the fact that consumers couldn't opt out of the deferral plan, and offered an amendment to the bill that would have let them. His amendment failed.

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said it just cost too much.

"I looked at the numbers," he said, "and it looks like the plan cost more money" than the earlier option.

If Ehrlich opts to veto the bill, General Assembly members likely will be called back to Annapolis for a vote on whether to override the veto.

"My gut tells me he'll veto the bill," Weldon said.




How they voted



Sen. John J. Hafer, R-Washington/Allegany/Garrett: No

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington: No

Sen. Alex X. Mooney, R-Washington/Frederick: No

Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Washington/Allegany: No

Del. John P. Donoghue, D-Washington: Yes

Del. Robert A. McKee, R-Washington: No

Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington: No

Del. Richard B. Weldon, R-Washington/Frederick: No

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