LETTER: Restore Public Accountability in Maryland's Electric Utility System


BGE and its parent company Constellation Energy aggressively lobbied the General Assembly in 1999 to deregulate Maryland's electric system. As part of the deregulation plan, rates were capped for seven years at pre-1999 levels with the failed assumption that competition would drive down rates. Competition failed to appear and now consumers are paying the price - BGE ratepayers will begin to pay the bulk of a 68 percent rate increase tomorrow, June 1st.

Since taking office only a few months ago, Gov. O'Malley has taken strong first steps to deal with the crisis by appointing a pro-consumer Public Service Commission, the body that regulates BGE and other power companies. But considering BGE's monopoly position, it will be a difficult fight to cap rates and bring BGE back under public control.

We need to restore public accountability in the electric utility system and force the utility companies to make smarter decisions about energy resources. In the short term, we need to invest in energy efficiency because it's the cheapest and fastest way to reduce energy use. We also need to start fixing the bigger problems by requiring utilities to plan ahead to keep costs low, investigating acquisition of generating potential by regulated utilities, and considering public power utilities in Baltimore and state-wide. The Public Service Commission needs to act swiftly on known solutions and start rigorously researching the options that will give Maryland the most reliable and affordable electric system.

The Progressive Maryland Education Fund issued a new report showing massive campaign contributions from the utility industry during the 1998 election --right before Maryland lawmakers enacted electricity deregulation in 1999. The report, entitled "Who's Got the Power," is available at http://progressivemaryland.org/

Lawmakers created a terrible perception that their decision to deregulate Maryland's electricity system was unduly influenced by massive campaign contributions from the same power utilities that stood to financially benefit.

Lawmakers need to prove they are not beholden to deep-pocket special interests—they need to enact voluntary, public funding of campaigns so they can run for office without taking money from BGE, Pepco, and other big-money contributors.

Johanna Neumann, Maryland PIRG
Sean Dobson, Progressive Maryland

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