- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 6, 2006

12:52 p.m.

Maryland lawmakers are meeting in Annapolis today to discuss a significant increase in electricity rates scheduled to take effect July 1.

The Legislative Policy Committee, which is headed jointly by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, also is expected to discuss Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.’s call for a special session on the energy rate increase.

Mr. Ehrlich, a Republican seeking re-election, sent a letter to the Democratic leaders yesterday saying a special session is needed because a lawsuit filed by Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley voided the governor’s plan to phase in a 72 percent increase in the energy bills of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.’s (BGE) 1.1 million residential customers.

The governor wants to revive a plan to phase in the rate increase that died when the Democrat-controlled legislature adjourned in April. Mr. Ehrlich has not set a date for the special session.

The Legislative Policy Committee had scheduled its meeting on electricity rates before Mr. Ehrlich yesterday announced his intentions to call a special session.

Meanwhile, BGE spokesman Robert Gould says more 24,000 residential customers have called a hot line to opt out of a rate stabilization plan approved by the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC). BGE opened the hot line (888/234-0505) yesterday.

Customers who do not opt out will automatically be in the plan, which will phase in the rate increase over two years, beginning with a 21 percent increase, and charge customers 5 percent interest monthly on the deferred payments.

The lawsuit brought by Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat running for governor, challenged a plan negotiated by Mr. Ehrlich and approved by the PSC. That plan sought to soften the rate increase by offering customers a 19 percent increase next month and gradually higher rates later.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Albert J. Matricciani Jr. ruled May 30 that the plan did not guarantee a smaller rate increase.

The plan Mr. Ehrlich aims to revive would phase in the increase to market-based rates over 18 months, beginning with a 15 percent increase July 1.

It includes a commitment by Constellation Energy to cut customers’ bills by $600 million over 10 years, which would reduce the average monthly bill by about $3.

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