- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2006

Maryland residents outraged by a 72 percent increase in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s rates railed against the power company in Annapolis yesterday, while the state’s utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC) in Baltimore logged public comment on a plan to phase in the rate increase.

“We might not be commissioners. We might not be elected officials. But we know when we are being bamboozled,” said Angela Bethea-Spearman, 45-year-old federal worker from Baltimore, told PSC members.

“We can’t survive at 72 percent [higher rates],” she said in the packed hearing room. “Not the poor, not the elderly, not the working class … I haven’t heard anyone talking about the hard-working families. Families like mine.”

Mark Case, BGE’s vice president of business performance and regulatory services, said the plan tempers the shock of higher electricity bills and also gives customers the choice of whether to participate in the deal.

“The company recognizes that this is a large increase at one time and represents a hardship for our customers,” he said. “We believe that the amended plan … is in fact a very generous offer on behalf of the company.”

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election, helped devise the plan to phase in BGE’s rate increase over 18 months, beginning with a 19 percent increase in July. Plan participants also would pay for two years an additional monthly charge of about $19 for the deferred payments.

The plan requires PSC approval to be implemented.

Last week, the commission approved the administration’s deal with Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) and Delmarva Power for a one-year phase-in of their rate increases — 39 percent and 35 percent, respectively — beginning with 15 percent increases this summer.

During a rally in Annapolis yesterday, Maryland Democratic Party spokesman David Paulson handed out bumper stickers that said, “BGEhrlich. Enough is Enough. Vote Democratic.”

Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan, a Democrat running for governor, said “the PSC is not going to do it’s job” and called for the General Assembly to reconvene a special session.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, who leads the Democratic primary race for governor, also supports a special session.

Mr. Ehrlich forged the deal with BGE to avoid an election-year special session after the legislature adjourned this month without resolving the electricity-rates issue.

Mr. Duncan yesterday held a press conference in front of the State House and the governor’s mansion, where he criticized Mr. Ehrlich’s deal with BGE, calling it “the Ehrlich rate hike.”

Paul Schurick, Mr. Ehrlich’s communications director, called Mr. Duncan’s charges “revisionist history.”

“Now you have all these wannabes and me-too artists who are trying to horn in on this,” Mr. Schurick said. “It’s not going to work … This is a legislature that had 90 days to get the job done, and they didn’t do it.”

Mr. Duncan said there are short-term and long-term solutions that need to be passed by the legislature. He said that a merger involving BGE’s parent company, Constellation Energy Group, and Florida utility FPL Group, should be stopped.

Mr. Duncan also said that local municipalities should be allowed to buy their own energy, instead of having to use retail suppliers such as BGE or Pepco.

He also said Montgomery County has saved residents $40 over the next four years on their electricity bills, through “better than anticipated prices for the sale of electricity generated at the county’s trash incinerator.”

Mr. Schurick called Mr. Duncan’s comments “sad” and “a naive view of a very complicated situation.”

The increase in electricity rates is the result, in part, of a 1999 deregulation plan that was approved by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly and signed by former Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. The plan capped BGE rates for six years as market prices climbed higher.

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