Volume 14, Issue 22 ~ June 1 - June 7, 2006


BGE’s Big 72: Here Comes Da Judge

For politicians, the number 72 has different meanings.

If you’re a golf fanatic like Gov. Robert Ehrlich, shooting 72 is a great day’s play. That’s par on many courses, long and short.

If you run for re-election and you amass 72 percent of the vote, you’ve got what politicians call a mandate. Plus, you scare the bejeezus out of would-be challengers.

But the number 72 connected to the percentage of how much voters’ utility bills go up is a different kettle of fish.

Consider the case of the politician who basically allowed BGE to have its whopping 72 percent rate hike, offering consumers only the most modest relief of deferred payments.

So we have to think that despite his words, Gov. Ehrlich had to be secretly pleased when a Baltimore circuit judge May 30 ordered the governor’s so-called Public Service Commission to review circumstances surrounding the 72 percent rate hike it granted BGE.

The governor can cry politics till the cows come home. But when he’s bending over a curly six-foot putt on the dance floor at Congressional or Avenal, he has to be relieved that Judge Albert Matricciani told utility regulators they they forgot some important stuff when they said okay to BGE’s Big 72.

For instance: How much is the utility paying for its electricity? And how much savings might occur from the pending merger with a Florida company — savings that might presumably benefit Marylanders?

We’d like to know, too, if BGE is buying its power at inflated rates from its mother company, Constellation Energy.

We’ve been listening to the talk-radio bloviators praise Ehrlich for running a business-friendly state. What they seem to forget is that we’re dealing here not with a mom-and-pop business trying to make it but with a regulated monopoly that made $623 million last year.

Monopolies relinquish certain freedoms in return for a guaranteed rate of return (not to mention getting the right to dig holes and string wires anywhere they want and to clip your tree so it looks like a poodle named Foo Foo).

We’ve never understood why the governor has said that BGE merits the Big 72. Other power suppliers, among them California-based Commerce Energy, are offering to sell Marylanders electricity for less.

But to borrow a phrase from the late sports writer Red Barber, BGE is in the catbird seat, knowing that most of us are too busy or too lazy to sign up with some other power supplier.

We’re not giving the Democratic-run General Assembly a pass, either. They couldn’t get a more consumer-friendly rate package passed on their own by the end of session April 15 for reasons that still remain unclear.

Now, rather than call a special session to take care of the people’s business, leaders are content to watch Ehrlich stew in the election-year juices of voters.

Speaking of numbers, you can bet the temperature in that pot will be rising way higher than 72 degrees.

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