- The Washington Times - Monday, April 16, 2007

ANNAPOLIS — The Public Service Commission (PSC) is scheduled to open hearings today on a proposed 48 percent electricity rate increase that would affect residents beginning June 1.

The commission will hold a series of hearings to determine whether it can, or should, constrain a rate increase proposed by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

“I think the first priority is for the commission to get the factual background for what factors are contributing to the proposed rate increase,” PSC Chairman Steven B. Larsen said yesterday.

Mr. Larsen said he expects the hearings to last all day, while new commissioners — himself included — evaluate the state’s energy problems and whether the PSC can reregulate or revamp Maryland’s energy structure.

However, a BGE spokesman said that rate increases are the norm and that the utility’s rates are at the low end of the scale, adding that BGE will work with the commission.

“We have already put a proposal before the PSC,” spokesman Robert L. Gould said. “We’ll certainly look for their action on that. This is their proceeding, and we’re going to cooperate with them.”

BGE proposed a deferral plan that would allow customers to pay 25 percent more starting June 1 and an additional 25 percent effective Jan. 1. Customers who pay full market rates starting June 1 would pay only 48 percent more, or 2 percent less than those under the deferral plan.

State lawmakers capped a proposed 72 percent increase during a special session last year, but the cap is set to expire in June.

Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, campaigned hard against what he said was an anti-consumer PSC stacked with appointments by former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican.

BGE’s proposal to raise rates 72 percent dominated discussion last year, and Mr. Ehrlich called a special session last year to mitigate the increase.

“The governor is looking forward to public hearings being held on energy rates in front of professional, competent and independent regulators,” O’Malley spokesman Rick Abbruzzese said.

Mr. O’Malley won a political victory when former PSC Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler and former Commissioner Charles Boutin, both Republicans, stepped down this year.

The governor appointed three of the commission’s five members: Mr. Larsen, Lawrence Brenner and Susanne Brogan, who supported the 1999 deregulation plan that ultimately led to the proposed rate increase.

Mr. O’Malley also reappointed Harold D. Williams, first appointed by Parris N. Glendening, also Democrat, while he was governor.

Allen M. Freifeld was appointed by Mr. Ehrlich in 2004; he is the sole member not picked by Mr. O’Malley.

Commissioners are appointed to staggered five-year terms.

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