- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

BALTIMORE — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday dismissed Democrats’ calls for a special session on energy rates, saying they either lack a plan or offer proposals that are “sorely lacking.”

“To call a special session just to hang around in the summertime and pretend you are doing something, without doing anything, makes absolutely no sense,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican.

“If they can come up with a better plan … to provide rate stabilization and to ensure reliability, ensure the lights come on and the air conditioners work this summer, count me in,” he said. “In fact, I’ll lead the charge [for a special session].”

The governor said calls for a special session from a trio of county executives and from the state legislature’s black caucus have not come with plans that rival his deal to phase in a 72 percent increase in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s energy rates.

The governor’s plan, which was approved last month by the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC), would phase in the rate increase over 18 months, starting with a 19 percent increase July 1. BGE’s residential electricity prices would go up roughly 72 percent to reach market-based rates by January 2008.

The plan is being challenged in court by Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor who wants the court to force the PSC to reconsider the phase-in plan and rate increase.

A hearing in Baltimore Circuit Court is scheduled for Tuesday.

“You simply cannot have a special session and attack the Public Service Commission,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “My purpose in calling a special session would be additional rate relief.”

He faulted Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr., Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens and Howard County Executive James N. Robey, all Democrats, for demanding this week a special session without presenting an plan.

Mr. Smith said he and his fellow county executives do have a plan: reconvene the Democrat-controlled General Assembly to replace PSC members with commissioners who would reconsider the rate increase.

Mr. Ehrlich appointed four of the five PSC members.

“The governor can say whatever he wants. That doesn’t mean it is true,” Mr. Smith said. “We need a fresh start and regulators that are unencumbered by all that has preceded the rehearing.”

The county executives’ plan closely resembles a bill that died in the legislature this year.

Mr. Ehrlich also criticized the modest benefits of the Legislative Black Caucus’ plan to phase in the rate increase over one year, starting with a 12 percent increase in July. He said it would amount to a saving for the average customer of merely $3 a month more than with his plan.

The governor said the caucus’ proposal for a moratorium on a proposed $11 billion merger of Constellation Energy Group, BGE’s parent company, and Florida utility FPL Group could cause further rate increases.

The merger moratorium is nearly identical to a failed bill this year. “That plan is sorely lacking,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

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