Cheaper electricity held hostage

Court of Appeals: Baltimore-area residents harmed as state judges intervene in complex case.

July 19, 2000

HAS the Maryland Court of Appeals decided to become the expert adjudicators of electric-power issues? That's possible, based on its precedent-setting decision to stop electric deregulation in the Baltimore area, pending a hearing tomorrow.

Yet the state's highest court is ill-equipped to make the judgments sought by a New Jersey trade group that wants to overturn the 1999 deregulation order of the state Public Service Commission.

The PSC spent an arduous 30 months hammering out a plan. Now, at the last minute, the Mid-Atlantic Power Supply Association wants the court to wipe that out.

MAPSA tried a similar ploy before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to block Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. from proceeding with deregulation. Not only did FERC reject MAPSA's request last week, it sharply upbraided the trade group for its last-minute, "disruptive" tactics.

The appeals court should note FERC's action. It should also require MAPSA to show precisely how beginning deregulation would harm members of its group.

So far, the only people harmed are BGE's 1.1 million customers, who could have saved $3 million through lower rates by now.

In essence, MAPSA is asking the court to raise rates so its members can sell their own electric power in the Baltimore area. The PSC approved a six-year, 6.5 percent rate cut by BGE; MAPSA says that's too low to compete against.

Yet 14 suppliers are seeking to sell electric power in BGE's market. Apparently, they don't think those rates are anti-competitive.

While the PSC set BGE's initial rates below Maryland's other deregulated electric companies, BGE's rates gradually rise to comparable levels in six years.

MAPSA's case has been rejected twice by a circuit court and once by the Court of Special Appeals. Even if the state's highest court lets MAPSA's suit proceed, it should not further delay electric deregulation in the region.

There's no reason a million customers shouldn't be receiving cheaper power charges.

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