- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Maryland Democratic leaders say they are prepared to reconvene the legislature tomorrow to overturn Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s anticipated veto of the energy plan passed last week in a special session.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election this fall, has until midnight today to veto the bill that would fire the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC), partially re-regulate the state’s energy industry and postpone a 72 percent rate increase by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE).

The governor has not said whether he will veto the measure, but an administration official has said Mr. Ehrlich would do so.

The Democrat-controlled General Assembly approved the bill last week with veto-proof majorities in the House of Delegates and the Senate.

BGE’s massive rate increase, which is to take effect July 1 for the utility’s 1.1 million residential customers, has become the hottest issue this election year.

On Tuesday, more than 100 people at a five-hour public hearing urged the governor to veto the Democrats’ energy plan.

Their testimony echoed Mr. Ehrlich’s complaint that the bill would force consumers to participate in a payment-deferral plan and pay off the debt plus about $109 million in interest over 10 years.

A spokeswoman for Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat, said lawmakers are ready to return to Annapolis as early as tomorrow for a veto-override vote. The legislature has overridden more than a dozen vetoes this year.

“It is a demonstration of how eager they are to impose $109 million of interest charges on more than 1 million Marylanders,” Ehrlich spokesman Henry P. Fawell said.

The energy bill would extend a cap on BGE’s rates for 11 months after a 15 percent increase July 1. Customers would be enrolled automatically in the plan, and BGE rates would reach market-level prices in January 2008.

It also would fire the PSC’s five members. A new commission would be appointed with candidates selected by Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, Anne Arundel County Democrat.

The bill would allow the new PSC to stave off market rates again next June by devising another rate-mitigation plan. Customers could choose whether to “opt in” to that plan.

Under the bill approved last week, BGE’s customers eventually will pay higher market prices for electricity while making payments for deferred charges in $2.19 monthly installments for 10 years — a total of $263 per customer.

The $2.83 in monthly fees currently in BGE statements would be cut to offset the debt and interest payments.

Critics call the bill a “quick fix” similar to the 1999 deregulation laws that set the stage for the current energy crisis.

Those laws, pushed by legislative leaders and signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat, capped rates at below-market levels as global energy prices rose.

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