A Senate committee voted to approve Gov. Martin O'Malley's nomination of a former employee of a New Jersey utility company to the Public Service Commission over the protest of a group of Montgomery County consumers.

Opponents expressed concern that Anne E. Hoskins, who was appointed to the powerful regulatory body in August, would be too supportive of power companies and not sympathetic to ratepayers.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley, chair of the Executive Nominations Committee, said she had received letters supporting and opposing Hoskins' continued service on the PSC. Hoskins has been serving in a provisional capacity since her appointment.

At least three individuals appeared at the normally routine confirmation hearing to oppose the nomination, but Kelley permitted only one to speak.

Abbe Milstein, a Rockville woman who founded a group called Powerupmontco to protest frequent Pepco outages in Montgomery County, told the committee she wasn't questioning Hoskins' character but criticized her recent vote to allow BGE to a collect a rate surcharge up front to finance the replacement of obsolete gas pipelines.

Milstein expressed concern that Hoskins' previous work as a senior vice president of Public Service Enterprise Group, a publicly traded energy company based in Newark, N.J., had biased her in favor of utilities.

Hoskins called the criticism "surreal."

"The idea that I would not be concerned about consumers is very foreign to me," she said.

Even senators who expressed sympathy with Milstein's views said they were reluctant to hold Hoskins' past employment against her.

"Just because you worked for a company doesn't mean that's who you are," Kelley said.

The committee voted unanimously to send Hoskins' nomination to the full Senate along with more than two dozen other gubernatorial appointments.

michael.dresser@baltsun.com