Rebate redux

Our view: Promoting conservation is in ratepayers' interests

April 03, 2008

In the final week of a legislative session, bills have a way of dying and then reviving. So it wasn't too shocking that the Senate yesterday reanimated Gov. Martin O'Malley's proposal to promote energy conservation one day after killing the measure. The real surprise was the continued false portrayal of the bill as a choice between giving money to ratepayers or handing it over to faceless bureaucrats.

Looking out for ratepayers' interests should be regarded as more than taking a politically expedient opportunity to lower everyone's monthly bills by little more than a dollar. Lawmakers should take seriously the long-term issues of not only price but also adequacy of supply - and the impact on the environment.

The governor originally proposed using the proceeds of new fees on greenhouse gas-producing industries primarily for forward-looking efforts. But some senators saw only a chance to fund a diminutive ratepayer rebate. A compromise approved yesterday will result in about a quarter of the funds being used for this purpose - with more set aside to help the poorest customers.

Let's set the record straight: Programs that encourage conservation aren't a waste. Without a serious commitment to decreasing energy demand, there are real doubts about whether the state will have an adequate power supply in the not-so-distant future.

The Senate actions may prove acceptable, but it's still not clear that ratepayers are any better served. A utility rebate may be helpful to legislators seeking re-election in two years, but it isn't meaningful energy policy.

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