The Larsen legacy

Our view : Chairman rejuvenated PSC but leaves much to be done

June 11, 2008

When Steven B. Larsen took over as chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission last year, there was some grumbling about his salary (which was substantially greater than his predecessors') and his experience with energy matters (which was significantly less).

Judging from his 16 months in office, however, Gov. Martin O'Malley would be wise to hire similarly for all state agencies. Just ask anyone at Constellation Energy Group about Mr. Larsen's regulatory doggedness and pro-consumer tilt. It's safe to say this was one PSC chairman who didn't spend a lot of time playing golf with utility lobbyists.

That's why news of his departure is disconcerting. While Mr. Larsen has made significant strides reforming the PSC and investigating many aspects of energy regulation - and deregulation - this was clearly a work in progress.

The outgoing chairman assured reporters yesterday that he's leaving for an attractive opportunity elsewhere and this should not be viewed as evidence of friction with the governor, who has sometimes fostered unrealistic expectations for energy reforms. Certainly, Mr. O'Malley went out of his way yesterday to praise Mr. Larsen's record at the PSC.

And rightfully so. Mr. Larsen, a former state insurance commissioner, proved a quick study and brought a renewed sense of purpose to his office. Most important was his $2 billion settlement with Constellation that takes the future decommissioning cost of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear facility off the backs of consumers. His recent efforts to challenge federal authorities over excess charges in the wholesale electricity market was also a welcome advance.

But the proper course for meeting Maryland's energy needs in the long term is not yet set. Responsibility for the PSC will now fall to Douglas R.M. Nazarian, a lawyer with an impressive r?sum? in business litigation.

The average consumer may take little notice of this change. Electricity rates continue to rise in Maryland - as they do elsewhere, thanks to global demand. But what Mr. Larsen has accomplished in his relatively brief time in office has proved helpful and could yield even greater returns in the future. Mr. Nazarian would be wise to build on this legacy.

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