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Legislative leaders try to 'politely' oust PSC

January 23, 2007

After the courts stymied Maryland lawmakers' attempt to fire members of the state's Public Service Commission, General Assembly leaders are trying a new approach - politely asking PSC members to leave.

We wouldn't blame commission members if they decided they wanted to leave behind such idiocy, but we hope they don't give the lawmakers a victory they don't deserve.

In case you have forgotten, state Sen. President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller was among those who sponsored the deregulation of the state's electric utility industry.

Then Miller and other proponents apparently forgot about the issue until Baltimore Gas & Electric proposed a 70-plus-percent rate increase for its electric customers.

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Having opened the doors to the lion's cage, so to speak, Miller then tried to blame the PSC for not doing more to suppress BGE's proposed rate increase.

Deregulation didn't succeed for two reasons. The first was that because rates were capped for a period of years following passage of the bill, there was no incentive for other power providers to try to undercut rates that were already artificially low.

Deregulation also depended on the ability to move power economically from coast to coast. But without improvements in the nation's power grid, that won't happen.

Boiled down to its simplest terms, what Miller and the other legislative leaders want is a PSC that will fix what they fouled up. If there were any justice, the PSC's members would tell the General Assembly to do its own repair work.

In the meantime, consumers who face increasing power rates need to look again at a possibility envisioned by those who supported the dergulation bill - the aggregation of residential customers into a buying group.

In 1999, Glenn Ivey, then the PSC's chairman, raised the possibility that a citizen's employer, insurance company or fraternal group might form a buying group to negotiate with a power company for a better rate.

Imagine joining a group consisting of every American Legion member in Western Maryland - and what negotiating leverage such a group might have.

The Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce has already formed such a buying group for some of its member businesses, so it's not impossible.

We suggest that interested citizens begin looking into how that process might work for a group of homeowners. It would be nice if the state's elected lawmakers could help, but based on what they've done so far, we're not sure they would really know how.

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