- The Washington Times - Friday, May 19, 2006

ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Maryland’s second-highest court refused yesterday to allow Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE) to begin promoting a plan to allow residential customers to defer an upcoming electric rate increase.

The utility-regulating Public Service Commission (PSC) and BGE had asked the Court of Special Appeals to dissolve a May 10 order prohibiting the utility from advertising the plan.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Albert Matricciani issued the order after Baltimore officials filed suit to force the commission to reconsider its approval of the 72 percent rate increase scheduled to take effect July 1.

The appeals court did not give reasons for its decision, but said the commission and the utility can try again to dissolve the order if more information is provided.

The next hearing before Judge Matricciani is scheduled for May 30.

“We are very pleased with this latest decision,” said Raquel Guillory, spokeswoman for Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley. “We believe the current plan does not serve the citizens of Maryland, and we are going to work toward finding a better solution.”

Robert Gould, a spokesman for BGE and its parent company, Constellation Energy Group, said BGE officials “feel very strongly that the need to communicate with our customers about the options available to them is paramount, and the political rhetoric that continues to come from certain elected officials about whether the 72 percent is valid or not is not helping the situation.”

“The fact is the 72 percent is real and is solely a reflection of the global energy crisis that we are facing,” Mr. Gould said. “Our concern is that the longer it goes that we are not able to communicate with our customers, the less time they will have to make an informed choice.”

PSC spokeswoman Christine Nizer said the commission is disappointed because Judge Matricciani’s order applied to every party to the case and prohibits the PSC from dispensing any information to inform BGE customers about the plan.

The proposed deferral plan would allow customers to choose to phase in the rate increase, beginning with a 15 percent average hike July 1.

Customers who chose that option would be assessed a surcharge on future bills, and BGE says everyone will wind up paying about the same whichever option he or she chooses.

Lawyers for the city along with consumer groups and many Republican and Democratic members of the General Assembly are skeptical that the 72 percent increase is justified, even though BGE’s residential electricity rates have not increased since 1999.

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