- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

BALTIMORE — Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. rates are to increase by 50 percent today, despite a campaign pledge from Gov. Martin O’Malley to provide rate relief.

Mr. O’Malley, a Democrat, acknowledged the failure, conceding last week to reporters that the total rate increase of 72.5 percent over last year “falls short of my campaign promises.”

The governor last year campaigned against the 50 percent rate increase taking effect today and he criticized former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, for appointing regulators he said were too cozy with the energy industry.

So as temperatures headed toward 90 degrees in the city yesterday, many residents said they were angry with Mr. O’Malley.

“I was all about him,” said Donna Doerfler, a waitress at Sabatino’s in Baltimore’s Little Italy, who said she supported Mr. O’Malley’s campaign. “It just seems like [politicians] all say one thing and do another.”

Lawmakers deregulated the state’s energy industry in 1999 but capped rates at 1993 levels until 2006. In 2006, with the cap set to come off, and facing a 72-percent rate increase, legislators convened a special session and granted BGE a 15-percent increase while delaying the biggest increase for another year.

The O’Malley campaign at the time was capitalizing on the pending rate increase.

“The special interests already have their governor — we need one of our own,” said a June 2006 campaign advertisement, which ran above the slogan: “Martin O’Malley: taking on BGE to stop the rate hikes.”

An August campaign brochure said: “When others were ready to turn out the lights, one man took our side and fought back against a 72 percent utility rate hike.”

But the state’s Public Service Commission — four-fifths of whom were nominated by Mr. O’Malley — ruled last week that it could not stop the rate increases based on its limited powers, set largely by the state’s energy deregulation plan.

“The commission determines that, based on the facts and the law presented in this proceeding, it has little choice but to approve the proposed increase,” the commissioners wrote.

Today’s increase will amount to a 72.5 percent increase over what customers were paying a year ago, upsetting utility customers.

“The Democratic campaign for governor, one of their main talking points was the Ehrlich administration and the PSC were a rubber stamp,” said Joe Brattelman, a retired corrections officer and a supporter of Mr. Ehrlich. “What happens when O’Malley comes in and his PSC rubber stamps it?”

Community leaders said they were largely concerned with protecting senior citizens.

“Lord forbid one of our residents passes away because they can’t afford AC,” said Mary Ann Campanella, president of the Little Italy Community Organization. “Who do you sue?”

Mrs. Campanella, who was sitting in the shade outside her house yesterday, said she keeps the air conditioning running 24 hours a day in the summer for her husband, who has emphysema.

Most of the residents she represents run their air conditioning all day, she said, because they are elderly.

A spokesman said BGE tried to educate consumers as much as possible before the first rate cap was set to be lifted in 2006, but that large increases are unavoidable.

“Any time you have rate caps, that will ultimately lead to rate shocks,” said Robert L. Gould, a spokesman for BGE. “Certainly you want to give as much notice to your customers as you possibly can. We were very aggressive about getting out the word in the fall of 2005.”

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