11 groups protest power settlement

MaryPIRG, others object to electricity price accord

January 15, 2003|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Pointing to a lack of energy efficiency programs or renewable energy initiatives, a consortium of environmental advocates urged the Maryland Public Service Commission yesterday to reject a proposed electricity settlement designed to protect consumers from future price spikes and erratic supply.

Under the proposal, which was unveiled in November, local utilities including Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Potomac Electric Power Co. would continue to provide electricity at regulated prices to smaller customers who do not choose an alternative supplier.

The regulated prices would continue for four years after rate caps start expiring in 2004.

The Maryland Public Interest Research Group (MaryPIRG) and 10 other groups, including the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Clean Water Action and the Natural Resources Defense Council, criticized the proposal in a filing with the PSC yesterday.

The filing noted that fossil-fuel combustion by power plants produced air pollutants and gases that contribute to global climate change. The plants also emit excess nutrients that enter the Chesapeake Bay, the filing said.

"Public health and environmental quality in Maryland remain at risk from the emission of power plants," the filing stated.

"A large portion of Maryland, including the entire Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, remains designated as a serious or severe ozone non-attainment area. ... Investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy can help reduce these emissions.

"However, the settlement agreement will discourage development of these clean energy resources," the environmental groups said in their filing.

Concerned that residential and small commercial customers could be squeezed by high prices after utilities' obligations to provide so-called "standard offer service" ends July 1, regulators have been negotiating with suppliers, consumers and utilities for more than a year to design a safety net for the state's most vulnerable customers.

Out of 22 parties that participated in the negotiations, only Washington Gas Energy Services objected to the settlement agreed upon in November. MaryPIRG and the other environmental groups were not participants in those talks.

Although the settlement does not include specific requirements for clean sources of energy, it does say the settling parties would consider products that include renewable, or "green," energy resources in a second phase of talks that began this month.

"Clean renewable energy is something we should be looking toward," said Gigi Kellett, a public interest advocate at MaryPIRG. "But it's deferred for discussion in Phase II. To us, that means it's not a priority. It's one of the last issues discussed on their list of concerns. We want it to be a first priority.

"We weren't asked to participate in the first phase of the hearings," Kellett said. "But it's something we're interested in following more closely as it moves along."

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