- The Washington Times - Friday, June 23, 2006

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Electricity bills for 1.1 million residential customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE) will increase by an average of 15 percent instead of 72 percent July 1 as a result of the Democrat-controlled General Assembly’s vote today to override Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s veto of a rate-relief bill.

The new law is the latest in a series of plans proposed during the past few months after the announcement of the jump in BGE’s residential rates with the expiration of a freeze on rates imposed under a 1999 electric deregulation law.

The new 15 percent cap on the rate increase will last just 11 months, and all BGE customers will have to pay back at least part of the deferred amount plus carrying charges over a 10-year period beginning next January.

During limited debate today, Republicans attacked the plan as a bad deal for consumers because the rate deferral plan is mandatory and BGE will be allowed to charge interest on the money it borrows to cover its costs during the 11-month rate-deferral period.

But Democrats said the deal not only softens the initial blow of higher electricity rates but will save money for consumers in the long run because BGE and its parent company, Constellation Energy Group, will underwrite part of the cost by giving up two monthly fees now paid by customers.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, Charles County Democrat, said the average customer will save $600 and pay back just $300.

“That sounds like a pretty good deal to me,” he said.

Republicans disagreed, saying consumers should have the right to choose whether to take part in the rate-relief plan and should not be required to pay a monthly fee for 10 years to cover the cost of the deferral plan.

“We can do better. In fact, we have an obligation to do better, to come back in here and do it right,” Delegate Anthony J. O’Donnell, Calvert County Republican, said during about 50 minutes of debate in the House.

Delegates overrode the governor’s veto on an 87-37 roll call, two votes more than the 85 required to override a veto in the House.

There was no debate or discussion in the Senate except for a brief description of the bill by Mr. Middleton.

It took the Senate only about 10 minutes to override the veto on a 34-10 roll call, five votes more than the required number.

House Minority Whip Andrew P. Harris of Baltimore County said Republicans chose not to debate the bill because they knew Democrats had the votes to override the governor.

“There are numerous parts of this bill that are faulty. We’re not here to work and solve a problem. We’re here for political reasons,” he said.

In addition to dealing directly with the BGE rate increase, the bill will fire the current five-member Public Service Commission and replace it with five new members to be appointed by Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election.

The governor will have to choose the new members from a list provided by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, both Democrats.

With the law scheduled to take effect July 1, Mr. Miller and Mr. Busch said they would get a list to the governor next week.

Mr. Miller said the list will include Republicans and Democrats and be balanced as to geography, gender, race and ethnicity.

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