Senate Revives Energy Legislation With a Greater Focus on Electric Rate Relief

By Annapolis Digest
Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Maryland Senate revived a key piece of Gov. Martin O'Malley's energy conservation plan yesterday, a day after it voted down the legislation.

After approving a motion to reconsider Tuesday's vote, senators amended the bill, which divides a new fund of electric power industry payments between rate relief and efficiency programs. The action yesterday tilts the proceeds more toward rate relief than the bill that failed Tuesday on a vote of 25 to 21.

The proposed Maryland Strategic Investment Fund would be financed by $140 million or more in fees on power plant owners who soon will have to buy credits to release the carbon dioxide emissions believed to cause global warming.

Beginning in the fall, Maryland and nine states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative will require the industry to buy and sell carbon credits at auction in an effort to reduce pollution.

Some senators argued yesterday that the amended bill still did not go far enough in providing rate relief.

"This is a tremendous opportunity," said Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's). "We can do better than this."

Others countered that the investments in efficiency programs would pay off later.

"This is not just about now," said Sen. Catherine E. Pugh (D-Baltimore). "This is about the future."

A Senate vote on the amended bill could come as early as today.

The House of Delegates, meanwhile, continued its debate yesterday over the energy conservation plans proposed by O'Malley (D) and gave preliminary approval to three related bills after rejecting amendments proposed by Republican lawmakers.

The House unanimously adopted an amendment to the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative bill clarifying that any pollution payments over $140 million would go to consumers as rate relief. Although state analysts doubt the state will see a surplus, the amendment calmed lawmakers who were concerned the bill did not address the need for immediate relief among ratepayers.

The House rejected GOP amendments to the three bills that would cushion consumers from paying for energy-reducing measures instituted by power companies.

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