O'Malley pledges to make re-regulation a priority

ANNAPOLIS, MARYLAND - Governor Martin O'Malley pledged to make energy regulation "an administration priority" in next year's legislative session after a measure he supported this year failed to pass the General Assembly.

In April, legislation that would have brought Maryland back toward some re-regulation of energy markets failed in a House committee after the Senate approved the measure.

O'Malley emphasized his resolve to try again even harder next year during a Board of Public Works meeting where about $4 million was approved for five contracts for consultants to help guide state regulators.

"Sometimes, you've got to charge up the hill a couple of times to get it through," O'Malley said.

The complex measure that bewildered many lawmakers would have given state regulators more authority to direct utilities to build new power plants, with an eye toward increasing energy supply in a state where residents have been hit by rising energy bills.

The bill was an effort to return authority lost by the state's Public Service Commission after Maryland deregulated in 1999. But the legislation had trouble finding support because it was readily acknowledged by energy experts that the bill would not have had an immediate impact on energy bills.

Supporters argued that it could have a long-term impact, but opponents questioned what the rush was to approve a bill this year.

Lawmakers in the House of Delegates also criticized the proposal because it was considered late in a session that already had been unusually complicated by serious budget problems.

O'Malley, a Democrat, did not include a specific re-regulation proposal among his initial legislative priorities last session. He announced his plans to push for more regulation at a recent news conference, after the General Assembly had been in Annapolis for a month and a half. The governor's plan was later amended into another bill that the Senate struggled to pass.

The five contracts that were approved include one that will study impact of a proposed Constellation Energy deal.

OCI Resources, Inc. will help the PSC study ramifications of a proposed $4.5 billion deal between Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group and France's largest utility, Electricite de France.

The PSC is working on determining whether EdF would have substantial influence over Constellation's regulated utility, Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. Doug Nazarian, the PSC commissioner, said a decision is expected soon.

O'Malley said Maryland needs to retain the expertise "so that we're not blindfolded and spun around 12 times by Constellation Energy and shuffled off through the back door."

"I want to retain whatever expertise we need, whatever lawyers we need, whatever professional witnesses we need so that the people do not get worked over by the energy industry," O'Malley said.


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