- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

BALTIMORE — Mayor Martin O’Malley’s administration went to court yesterday, hoping to stop a 72 percent rate increase by the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (BGE).

Ralph Tyler, Baltimore city solicitor, filed a motion in Baltimore Circuit Court, arguing that the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) approval of the increase was badly flawed and didn’t include enough public input.

“Since the utility-friendly Public Service Commission won’t do its job, we are forced to take this matter to the independent judiciary,” Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat who is running for governor, said.

Mr. Tyler took issue with the PSC for voting to approve the rate increase just hours after the only public hearing on the proposal Thursday.

The city’s motion asks the court to hear the case on an expedited basis and conclude it by June 1 — a month before the rate increases are slated to take effect.

Rob Gould, a spokesman for Constellation Energy, the parent company of BGE, declined to comment on specific points in the filing.

“As we’ve already announced, we are moving briskly with the final stages of our comprehensive communications program that will fully explain the options available to customers beginning May 15,” Mr. Gould said.

To get the word out, Mr. Gould said the company will use television and print advertising as well as its Web site and personal outreach to people with low incomes.

“It’s literally an education campaign to educate them on the choices available to them,” he said.

Mr. Tyler has argued that the rate-approval process has created widespread confusion for customers about the nature of the plan.

BGE officials have taken issue with a PSC ruling that the company can’t charge interest to customers who choose to delay the 72 percent increase. The company says it may challenge the decision.

On Monday, lawyers for BGE said the company was reserving its right to challenge the ruling and seek a hearing to make its case to the PSC.

But the decision will not affect the rate increase plans, including the plan authorized by the commission last week.

Under that plan, customers can accept the 72 percent rate hike beginning July 1 or phase it in over the next 18 months.

A proposed phase-in plan for 1.1 million residential consumers in central Maryland will enable customers to delay part of the increase, repaying it later.

BGE contends everyone will end up paying the same amount of money in the long run.

The company plans to borrow money to make up for the money it will not collect during the phase-in period and wants to charge 5 percent interest to ratepayers to cover its borrowing costs.

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