Leaders in Accord on Need For New Session on Rates

By Matthew Mosk and Ann E. Marimow
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and top legislative leaders agreed yesterday that they need to convene a special session of the General Assembly to blunt the impact of the massive electricity rate hikes coming this summer.

Ehrlich's spokesman said the governor plans to sign an executive order in coming days that will call the legislature into session.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. predicted that the 188 members of the House and Senate would assemble in Annapolis within the next two weeks to vote on legislation aimed at bringing some form of relief to consumers.

"We are telling the members to clear their calendars," Miller (D-Calvert) said.

Late yesterday, the Republican governor delivered a letter to the Democrats who lead the House and Senate, urging them to come together to revive a compromise rate relief plan that died in April in the final minutes of the legislative session.

Lawmakers could also use a special session to reopen efforts to fire the state utility regulators who approved rate increases or to wrest millions in concessions from Maryland's largest power company.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s 1 million customers are facing the largest increase, with a 72 percent hike set to take effect July 1. Pepco customers saw a jump of about 38.5 percent that took effect last week and have the option of spreading the increase over 18 months.

Pepco's plans are unlikely to change if the legislature reconvenes. But lawmakers could approve a rate relief plan for BGE that ratchets up rates over 18 months. And they could bring lasting change statewide if they proceed with a proposal to disband the state's five-member Public Service Commission and replace it with a more consumer-friendly panel.

All three gubernatorial candidates have plans on how best to bring down electricity rates, and all have urged the legislature to reconvene.

Special sessions are infrequent in Maryland, especially in an election year when most of the state's politicians are busy campaigning. But the prospect of voters confronting staggering electric bills in the weeks before Election Day galvanized members of both parties.

Since the legislature adjourned in April without a plan to deal with the rates, the state's political leaders have been jockeying for the upper hand.

First the governor negotiated an agreement with Constellation Energy Group, BGE's parent company, that would have phased in the increase.

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