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Energy bill could stall local utilities case

June 21, 2006|by TAMELA BAKER

A local businessman traveled Tuesday to Annapolis to testify at Gov. Robert Ehrlich's hearing on the recently passed energy bill, but his concern had little to do with electric rates.

Clint Wiley, president of New Frontiers Telecommunications Inc. in Hagerstown, has a case pending before the Public Service Commission, which regulates public utilities. The new bill, intended to soften the blow for customers of Baltimore Gas & Electric facing soaring utility rates, also requires the PSC to be dismantled and reconstituted, which means New Frontiers' case could be put off indefinitely.

New Frontiers' complaint against communications giant Verizon involves more than $2.2 million in disputed charges by Verizon for "last-mile" network equipment and other services the utility provides to New Frontiers, according to the complaint.

Wiley said he was going to Annapolis to ask the governor, who is weighing whether to veto the energy bill, to move quickly - either way - so his case can go forward.

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"If they replace the entire PSC June 30, the political and legal fighting could put the case in limbo," Wiley told The Herald-Mail. Though no hearing date had been scheduled, the case had been docketed and the hearing panel had been selected.

But the bill approved by the General Assembly in a special session last week demands that current PSC members, nearly all of whom were appointed by Ehrlich, be dismissed at the end of the month and a new PSC, chosen from among a list of candidates compiled by House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, be appointed.

Wiley said that portion of the bill appeared to be politically motivated and that because of it, New Frontiers' case "is probably officially in limbo."

His request to the governor was that if Ehrlich opted to sign the bill or allow it to become law, that he seek new PSC members "with broad experience, including a communications specialist." And if Ehrlich chooses to veto the bill, Wiley said he would ask that the governor work with the legislature to find a policy that would phase in new PSC members.

Wiley said he believed the bill was crafted to address BGE "without consideration for the rest of us," but offered to meet with Miller and Busch, who have charged that Ehrlich's appointees are too close to the utilities, to work out some kind of consensus.

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