Power grid merger opposed

Md., Va., D.C. join call for a rehearing on federal order

August 02, 2001|By Gus G. Sentementes and Michael Dresser | Gus G. Sentementes and Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland regulators teamed up with their counterparts in Virginia and the District of Columbia yesterday to challenge a federal order that would force a merger of the highly regarded mid-Atlantic power grid, widely hailed as the region's best defense against the electricity shortages and skyrocketing prices that have afflicted California.

Maryland Public Service Commission Chairman Catherine I. Riley said in a statement that a July 12 order by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that would merge the PJM Interconnection grid with two others "adds a huge new variable of instability" to electric restructuring.

The order is part of a FERC drive to create four regional organizations -- in the Northeast, Southeast, Midwest and West -- to manage power distribution.

"This is a very, very dramatic divergence from what had been an evolving practice, and all the ramifcations are unclear," Riley said yesterday. "Our point is [FERC's] got the cart before the horse. We should resolve issues first before you make such serious changes. We support an orderly, inclusive process -- this is not that."

Michael Morrill, a spokesman for Gov. Parris N. Glendening, said the governor "absolutely" supports the PSC's effort to protect what he called "the nation's best electric grid."

"The decisions about the future of Maryland's energy supply should not be sold out to the big energy companies who funded the president's campaign and whose track record is consistently anti-consumer and anti-environment," Glendening said in a statement.

Susan S. Miller, the PSC's general counsel, said a lawsuit is likely if FERC denies the states' request.

"We're saying, `We think you made a big mistake and we think you should take this opportunity to rethink what you've done,'" she said. "If FERC denies our request for a rehearing, then I definitely think there's a lawsuit down the line."

FERC spokeswoman Barbara Connors said the commission received the request late yesterday and that it was "premature to address it at this time." She said the panel has 30 days to respond.

Critics of the regional transmission organization plan, or RTO, said that FERC's order for operators to combine is premature and could increase electricity costs in the Northeast. One of the power grid operators -- PJM Interconnection in Valley Forge, Pa. -- manages a pool of power for residents in Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington, and parts of Virginia.

The District of Columbia Public Service Commission and the Virginia State Corporation Commission joined Maryland in the rehearing request.

The Maryland Energy Administration also supported the PSC's effort to overturn the order because "it's not in the best interests of Maryland," said MEA Director Frederick H. Hoover Jr. "If you take the existing [Northeast] power pools and add them to PJM, you're adding now a large number of customers and demand, which will have the effect of keeping prices high or causing them to go up in the future."

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