Maryland's energy future

Our view : Governor offers a complex, difficult (and right) approach

Power And Politics

August 19, 2008

Gov. Martin O'Malley "gets it" when it comes to Maryland's energy needs, but whether the average resident paying higher electricity bills does remains to be seen.

In a speech Saturday to county and local government leaders in Ocean City, the governor outlined a multifaceted and long-term approach to address Maryland's problems of high prices and a potential scarcity of electricity in the not-too-distant future. It follows much of the advice Mr. O'Malley has gotten from his reinvigorated Public Service Commission over the past year.

Nevertheless, Mr. O'Malley's proposal is ambitious and complex. It would require that state agencies look to buy power from wind generators and other renewable sources. He expects smaller "peaking" plants (those used only during periods of high demand, such as hot summer days) to be developed with government help as well.

Encouraging the use of smart meters (where customers pay more during high-demand periods and less at other times) and providing more energy assistance for low-income neighborhoods are also part of the plan.

The governor stopped short of endorsing a blanket re-regulation of the power supply but suggested future generation may have to be. Even that note of uncertainty hit the mark. The jury's still out on whether ordering utilities to build power plants (and customers to finance such potentially risky ventures) is really in the ratepayers' interest.

It's easy enough to bash power producers such as Constellation Energy Group for the price increases of recent years. But Marylanders would be wise to reject such emotional appeals and recognize that the problem is far bigger than that. The governor gets it (even if perhaps he didn't when he was campaigning for office in 2006), but he needs to keep talking about it if he is to win over frustrated, price-weary voters.

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