- The Washington Times - Friday, June 9, 2006

BALTIMORE — A state Senate task force on energy rates failed during this year’s legislative session to submit a final report or recommend legislation on Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.’s (BGE) 72 percent increase.

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly now is scrambling to devise an energy plan for next week’s special session, with higher rates for BGE’s 1.1 million residential customers set to take effect July 1.

The 11-member Senate Special Commission on Electric Utility Deregulation Implementation was created in January 2005 by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George’s County Democrat.

Its mission was to recommend “improvements or modifications to ensure that … a competitive market leading to lower electric utility rates is achieved,” according to a task force document.

The recommendations were to be submitted during the General Assembly’s 90-day session that ended April 10, but a final report was not delivered.

“It is the very definition of negligence,” said Henry P. Fawell, spokesman for Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican seeking re-election. “They were warned two dozen times about the consequences of their flawed deregulation plan, and the citizens of Maryland got nothing in return but blank stares.”

Mr. Fawell was referring to 23 briefings on rising electricity rates that the utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC) gave lawmakers, including Mr. Miller and his energy task force, in the year before BGE’s rate increase was announced in March.

The rate increase has resulted, in part, from 1999 deregulation laws that were shepherded through the legislature by Mr. Miller and signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat. The laws capped electricity rates below market levels while worldwide energy prices climbed higher.

The only paperwork submitted by the task force was a four-page interim report dated Dec. 19 that listed agencies and organizations that had briefed the panel during its six meetings last summer.

The interim report did not provide an assessment of the state’s energy market or recommendations for lowering utility rates.

It did say, however, that the “findings and recommendations of the commission are anticipated to be considered during the 2006 legislative session.”

Senate Minority Leader J. Lowell Stoltzfus, Eastern Shore Republican, asked Mr. Miller about the task force report this week at a meeting, where plans for the special session were announced. “I haven’t seen it,” Mr. Stoltzfus said.

The Senate president told Mr. Stoltzfus the report would be made available.

Mr. Miller did not return a call seeking comment about the task force yesterday.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, task force chairman, said the lack of a final report was a mere oversight.

“It’s one of those little things that was completely overlooked,” the Charles County Democrat said. “We didn’t make any recommendations.”

Mr. Middleton said the task force was intended to gather information and establish legislative expertise on utility issues, not draft legislation. Legislative expertise was needed because Democratic leaders had “no confidence” in the PSC, he said.

Mr. Middleton said task force data would be used in drafting legislation for the special session, including a measure to fire the governor-appointed PSC and replace it with one picked by legislative leaders.

Democratic leaders intend to have a plan when lawmakers return to Annapolis for a caucus Monday. Bill hearings are expected Tuesday and voting sessions Wednesday and possibly Thursday.

COMMISSIONED

Members of the Maryland state Senate Special Commission on Electric Utility Deregulation Implementation, which was set up in January 2005 to recommend how to lower energy rate increases:

Democrats

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton of Charles County, chairman

Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer of Baltimore County, vice chairman

Sen. John C. Astle of Anne Arundel County

Sen. Joan Carter Conway of Baltimore

Sen. Delores G. Kelley of Baltimore County

Sen. Kathy Klausmeier of Baltimore County

Sen. Ulysses Currie of Prince George’s County

Sen. Leo E. Green of Prince George’s County

Republicans

Sen. David R. Brinkley of Frederick County

Sen. E.J. Pipkin of Queen Anne’s County

Sen. Sandra B. Schrader of Howard County

The Washington Times

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