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Delegates win one battle, lose another in special session

June 18, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

ANNAPOLIS

Del. John P. Donoghue talked with Allegheny Energy officials Wednesday before casting his vote on the energy bill approved during the Maryland General Assembly's special session.

Donoghue, D-Washington, wasn't the only local delegate to consult with Allegheny before the vote, but he was the only one who voted for the plan.

The rest - all Republicans - batted .500 in the session, winning a major battle with the sex offender bill also approved during the session, but having enough misgivings about the energy bill to vote against it.

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Gov. Robert Ehrlich has not said whether he will veto the bill or allow it to become law. He has scheduled a public hearing on the measure for Tuesday in the Maryland State House.

The bill, which passed with veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, was designed to provide relief to consumers facing a 72 percent rate increase as Baltimore Gas & Electric moves from regulated charges to market rates in July.

Hours after the special session officially ended, Del. Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington, still had misgivings about the bill. After listening to consumers in the Baltimore Gas & Electric service area speaking on a radio call-in show, he was convinced they had misgivings, too.

"The people in the BGE area know what's going on, that they're trying to pass the buck to Gov. Ehrlich and make him look bad," Shank said. "I don't see a whole lot of people out there who are thanking the General Assembly."

Shank noted that the bill "doesn't say a whole lot about Allegheny," but Donoghue and Allegheny spokesman Allen Staggers were finding some silver linings for the utility, although Staggers said company officials on Thursday had not yet seen the final language.

The new law "will make absolutely sure when (Allegheny's rate) caps are lifted in 2008, (the utility) will have ample evidence of what they can do" to mitigate their own rate increases, Donoghue said. The bill allows Allegheny to enter "sharing arrangements with other companies and work out a mitigation plan with a new (Public Service Commission) that is looking out for the consumer."

While Staggers had not gone through the bill "detail by detail," he said that because it does allow Allegheny to work with the PSC to draft a rate mitigation plan before the rate caps come off, "it will help us avoid the same situation BGE faced."

When BGE went to market to purchase power in March, the bids came back higher than any of the legislators who voted to deregulate the utilities in 1999 imagined. Those charges were slated to be passed on to BGE consumers July 1.

But Staggers said a provision in the bill that modifies competitive supply "may help to reduce the cost" for Allegheny.

Another possible strategy, he said, is to follow the lead of PEPCO, which services Montgomery County, Md., and only purchases a portion of its energy at a time. PEPCO opted to go to bid "for a third of their load every year; they haven't had quite the rate shock BGE did," Staggers said.

Nobody can predict what the market rates will be at the end of 2008, when Allegheny's caps expire.

"It's impossible to predict the future," Staggers said. "The important thing residents would care about is that hopefully, we will prevent a situation like BGE, and they'll get plenty of notice" about what the rates will be.




Public hearing



What: Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich has scheduled a public hearing to give Marylanders a chance to provide input on the General Assembly's plan to soften the blow of a planned electricity rate increase for residential customers of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

When: Tuesday, 3 to 8 p.m.

Where: Governor's Reception Room in the Maryland State House, Annapolis

Those wishing to testify can sign up at www.maryland.gov.

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