- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. yesterday officially called for a special session tomorrow to address next month’s 72 percent rate increase by Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., signing the executive order just minutes after Democratic lawmakers released details of an energy plan.

“The only reason there has been some hesitation on my part [to call a special session] is the lack of a plan,” Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election this fall, told reporters earlier in the day. “The time for silliness is over.”

However, the governor said he would oppose several measures that the Democrat-controlled legislature included in its plan, such as a legislative takeover of the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC) and the Office of the People’s Counsel.

PSC Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler, an Ehrlich appointee, and the other four members of the commission will be fired as of July 1, according to an executive summary of the plan.

The summary was made public last night after House and Senate Democrats met in a rare joint caucus meeting.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat, said the plan was the “best consumer-oriented product” available at this time.

He also blamed the PSC for being too cozy with the utilities.

“What this is about is a lack of confidence and credibility in the current PSC,” Mr. Busch said.

Shortly after Mr. Ehrlich signed the special-session order, Democratic leaders said they were prepared to deliver a petition signed by a majority of members from both chambers that would have compelled the governor to reconvene the legislature.

Mr. Ehrlich also criticized Democrat’s proposal to cap BGE’s rates for 11 months after allowing a 15 percent increase July 1.

“The problem with a temporary rate cap is they are doing the same thing they did in 1999, which is postpone the pain,” he said. “If the idea behind here is to fool the voters for a couple of months, it is so transparent and so bad that I don’t think it is going to fool anybody.”

Robert L. Gould, spokesman for Constellation Energy Group Inc., which is BGE’s parent company, said the attack on the PSC was strictly political theater.

“The fact is, you can blow up the PSC and that isn’t going to affect the cost of electricity,” he said.

Mr. Gould said he feared that laws aimed at the power company or the proposed $11 billion merger of Constellation Energy and Florida utility FPL Group Inc. could hurt consumers in the long run. He stopped short of saying that Maryland risked the rolling blackouts that struck California a few years ago.

Mr. Ehrlich said blackouts and brownouts were “absolutely possible” if the legislature damages BGE.

“If reliability is put at risk because of what this General Assembly does, there will be an awful lot of pain in the future,” he said.

The Democrats’ plan stipulates that BGE rates will reach market-level prices by July 1, 2008, and allows the power company to recover charges deferred while rate caps are extended temporarily.

It also requires BGE to reduce rates by refunding about $18.6 million that customers paid in fees for the decommissioning of nuclear plants, which was part of the 1999 deregulation plans.

BGE’s massive rate increase is the result, in part, of 1999 utility deregulation law passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. The law capped BGE’s rates belowmarket levels while energy prices climbed higher.

BGE’s rate caps expire July 1.

“The same people who brought us this plan are now pointing fingers and blaming the Public Service Commission for what [the legislature] did, and now they are going to further politicize this Public Service Commission,” Mr. Ehrlich said.

“What kind of answer is that? It’s no answer.”

The Democrats’ plan directs the attorney general to investigate the proposed merger and orders the power company to use cost savings from the merger to lower rates.

It repeals the income-tax credit on real property used to generate electricity and earmarks the roughly $5.6 million in tax revenue to a fund to help the poor pay their electric bills.

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