Taylor offers bill for choice

House speaker adds rate cap, protections to business proposal

Utility deregulation

February 11, 1999|By Timothy B. Wheeler | Timothy B. Wheeler,SUN STAFF

A week after casting doubt on prospects for deregulating the power industry, House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. announced yesterday that he is introducing his own legislation to let Marylanders choose their electric supplier.

Taylor said he made several changes, aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, to a business-backed proposal that would open Maryland to competition among electricity suppliers.

"I feel pretty good about this bill," Taylor said, calling it a "good starting point" for House deliberations.

Just last week, after hearing qualms expressed by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, the Allegany County Democrat pulled back from introducing a business-backed deregulation bill. Without some changes, the speaker predicted, competition had no more than a 50-50 chance of becoming law.

But Taylor said he has since satisfied his concerns about protecting consumers and the environment by making several changes in the business-backed draft. They include:

A four-year cap or at least a freeze on residential electric rates.

A universal service fund to help low-income customers pay for power.

A requirement that electricity suppliers disclose their fuel sources so consumers can choose whether to buy less polluting power.

Authorization for electricity customers to band together to use their combined buying power to seek lower rates.

A six-year window to adjust any recovery by utilities of "stranded" costs for their investment in power plants.

Taylor was joined at the announcement by Glenn Ivey, chairman of the state Public Service Commission, which needs enabling legislation to proceed with plans to phase in electric choice starting next year. Ivey said Taylor's bill "helps jump-start the legislative process."

The House bill is similar in many respects to legislation introduced last week by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller. Taylor said he met yesterday with the governor to explain how the House bill tries to address Glendening's consumer and environmental concerns.

But Taylor acknowledged that consumer advocates and environmental activists want even greater safeguards built into any deregulation bill.

Dan Pontious, Maryland Public Interest Research Group director, welcomed Taylor's proposal, but said, "I think this still doesn't go far enough to protect consumers and the environment."

Taylor said legislators will have to choose between two competing philosophies, one of requiring protections and another of letting the markets decide.

Pub Date: 2/11/99

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