- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 25, 2006

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland lawmakers moved closer yesterday to delaying the upcoming merger of Baltimore Gas & Electric’s parent company and a Florida utility, which has resulted in the power company’s saying a lawsuit is possible.

The debate about whether to delay an $11 billion merger between the parent company, Constellation Energy Group, and Florida Power & Light, is the latest political maneuver by state lawmakers looking for ways to cushion double-digit rate increases expected this summer across much of Maryland when rate caps expire.

The bill doesn’t address rate increases specifically, but it would give the General Assembly more say over the workings of Constellation.

The House voted to give preliminary approval to the bill, with final approval possible this week.

The measure would require the General Assembly, not just the utility-regulating Public Service Commission, to sign off on a utility merger. The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Dereck Davis, Prince George’s Democrat, said lawmakers need to know more about the proposed merger of BGE with an out-of-state company.

“We haven’t determined yet whether it’s a good thing,” he said.

Constellation strongly opposes the measure, calling it an unwarranted intrusion. Company spokesman Rob Gould said yesterday a lawsuit is possible if lawmakers attempt to meddle with Florida Power’s $11 billion purchase of Constellation.

“We’re extremely troubled by the prospect that the legislature is attempting to hold our proposed merger hostage, and to that end we will be considering all options, including the legal route,” Mr. Gould said.

Mr. Gould said Friday that blocking the merger would create an economic condition that would keep the company from gradually phasing in a 72 percent increase in electricity bills.

The Senate has yet to consider the measure, which is opposed by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

Some House Republicans also oppose the idea. Delegate George C. Edwards, Allegany and Garrett counties Republican, compared the plan to a law enacted earlier this year to require Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health care. Business groups are now fighting the move in court.

“Here again we’re getting into private enterprise,” said Mr. Edwards, who also said Democrats wanted to “micromanage” businesses.

“We don’t need to be getting into the mergers of companies,” he said.

The rate increases are partly the result of the 1999 deregulation plan approved by the Democratic-controlled General Assembly and signed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, a Democrat.

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