- The Washington Times - Friday, April 21, 2006

BALTIMORE — Democrats vying to challenge Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. on Election Day have taken a dim view of his deal with Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE) for phasing in a 72 percent increase in energy rates.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley and Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said the deal delays, but does not stop, the massive rate increase. They added that Mr. Ehrlich is too “cozy” with the utility industry.

“Bob Ehrlich is asking Marylanders to opt in to a loan-shark deal that will cost Maryland families more than 72 percent in the long run,” O’Malley campaign manager Jonathan A. Epstein said. “This is what happens when independent, real regulators aren’t on the job.”

Mr. Duncan said the BGE deal “falls woefully short of properly protecting the ratepayers and does nothing to address the long-term implications of failed energy deregulation.”

BGE’s rate increase has resulted, in part, from a 1999 deregulation plan approved by the Democrat-controlled legislature and Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. The plan held the utility’s rates below market levels for six years.

Both Mr. Duncan and Mr. O’Malley have proposed separate but nearly identical energy plans that would re-regulate the industry and cap electricity rates. The Democratic gubernatorial candidates also would allow local jurisdictions to buy bulk electricity to lower the cost to residents.

In addition, they call for restructuring the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC), which Democrats blame for the rate increase.

On Thursday, Mr. Ehrlich announced that BGE will phase in higher rates over 18 months, beginning with a 19 percent increase July 1. Consumers would have to “opt in” to the plan and pay off the deferred charges at an average cost of $15 a month over two years.

“We inherited a situation. We were dealt a hand and we have done the best we can do,” said Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican who is seeking re-election.

The BGE deal — and the administration’s deals for a one-year phase-in of rate increases by Potomac Electric Power Co. (PEPCO) and Delmarva Power — still must win PSC approval.

The General Assembly adjourned April 10 without resolving the energy issue. Sealing the deal with BGE executives allowed Mr. Ehrlich to resolve the issue without having to call a special session of the Democrat-controlled legislature.

On the campaign trail, Mr. O’Malley is accusing Mr. Ehrlich of being “on the side of big energy profits” and appointing PSC members who may have allowed power companies to overcharge consumers.

“It is no longer the Public Service Commission,” Mr. O’Malley said. “It is a commission that serves big energy company profits and all of us are going to be paying the bill.”

Mr. Duncan said Mr. O’Malley is just as “cozy” with the utility industry as Mr. Ehrlich. He criticized both men for accepting campaign contributions from energy companies including Constellation Energy Group, BGE’s parent company.

“The bottom line is that I don’t trust either the governor or the mayor to look out for the ratepayers of Maryland,” Mr. Duncan says. “We need a governor who will stand up for consumers, give a voice to the voiceless and ensure that the unregulated energy monopolies are not allowed to gouge the ratepayers of Maryland.”

Mr. Ehrlich dismissed the criticism from Mr. O’Malley and Mr. Duncan as catcalls from “the bleachers.”



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