Utility releases financial data to lawmakers

Constellation complies with request after judge says PSC rate plan must be reviewed

June 01, 2006|By ANDREW A. GREEN | ANDREW A. GREEN,SUN REPORTER

BGE's parent company responded yesterday to top legislators' request for information about its finances and the cost of power that is driving the utility's pending 72 percent rate increase.

Aides to the lawmakers said they were still reviewing the data and would have no immediate comment.

The company released the data a day after it suffered a major loss in Baltimore Circuit Court, where a judge ruled that the Maryland Public Service Commission must hold new hearings on a rate deferral plan and must consider whether so large a rate increase is justified. Robert L. Gould, a spokesman for Constellation Energy, BGE's parent company, said officials there are still reviewing the court decision and have not decided how to proceed.

The Public Service Commission is weighing its options, spokeswoman Christine E. Nizer said yesterday. The PSC could appeal the decision, but if it doesn't, it will have to schedule a hearing and decide whether to temporarily extend electric rate caps while it reconsiders the deferral plan.

The information Constellation provided last night came in response to a request by Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch, in what both said was a necessary first step in deciding whether to call a special session of the General Assembly to deal with rate issues.

The two lawmakers told Constellation they wanted to know the following: the size of bonuses and severance packages promised to company executives if a merger with a Florida utility goes through; the value of Constellation's power plants in Maryland; details of the company's investments in the plants since 1999; and how much of BGE's electricity supply is coming from Constellation.

Electric bills are set to go up with the July 1 expiration of rate caps implemented as part of Maryland's 1999 electricity deregulation. Legislators devoted much of this year's General Assembly session to securing rate relief, but a plan died minutes before lawmakers adjourned for the year.

Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. negotiated a deferral plan with the utility in the subsequent weeks, but many consumers, lawmakers and political opponents of the governor said it did too little to help.

The city of Baltimore, under the direction of Mayor Martin O'Malley, a Democratic candidate for governor, sued the PSC, arguing that it did not follow proper procedures in approving the rate increase and deferral plan. On Tuesday, it won in Circuit Court.

In his first public comments since the decision was issued, O'Malley said yesterday the case was an important victory for consumers from across the region.

"We went to court because our state government did not act with fairness or in the public interest when they allowed this 72 percent rate increase to go through with a wink and a nod," O'Malley said.

Ehrlich and other Republicans have accused the mayor of political grandstanding on an issue of vital importance to Marylanders rather than offering a concrete plan for solving the problem.

Del. Curtis S. Anderson, a Baltimore Democrat who has pushed for a special session, stood by O'Malley's side yesterday and said the mayor was giving voice to all the people who weren't able to attend the PSC's hearing on the issue to make their views known.

"We had a mayor who stood up for ... people who couldn't be there, couldn't be there, my constituents or his constituents," Anderson said. "So what [if] it's during an election year. I suspect that he would have done this regardless of whether it was an election year because it affects the very core, the very fabric of our society, and that is working-class people, the working poor who couldn't be there."

andy.green@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Doug Donovan contributed to this article.

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