Energy rates
Mike, Arbutus: I have to "opt in" to get screwed? What a joke.

Nitkin: The Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. electric rate increase deferral plan negotiated by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and agreed to by parent company Constellation Energy Group requires customers to opt in. By enrolling, rate increases will be phased in over a period of 18 months to market rates, which are currently 72 percent above the electricity commodity and delivery price now charged by the company. A monthly fee will be assessed to compensate the company for its deferred revenue, and all customers -- those who opt in and opt out -- will wind up paying the same amount in three years.

The company estimates that fewer than half its residential customers will enroll. The plan, as negotiated by the governor, includes a 5 percent yearly interest charge. The Public Service Commission, which had to approve the deferral, removed the charge, but BGE is protesting and wants it removed.

Bob, Abingdon: Please share with uninformed readers what you mean when you say "shop around." What other companies supply gas and electricity in the local market?

Nitkin: One place to start is at this Web site run by the Public Service Commission. In the BGE service area, the site lists 21 suppliers "that have met Public Service Commission and utility requirements to provide service in Maryland." But consumers have to contact individual companies to see if they can provide electricity at lower prices, and most observers say that there is not yet true competition for residential electric service.

Bryan, Olney: David, didn't the Senate already approve the current PSC members?

Nitkin: Yes, members of the PSC are nominated by the governor, and the nominations must be approved by the Senate. In 2005, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller held up for a few weeks all of the governor's nominations to boards and commissions, in part because of the concern of the qualifications of one of the nominated commissioners, Karen A. Smith, an attorney who had been the governor's head of intergovernmental affairs.

Mary Yearwood, Baltimore: What is going to happen to the budget-billed people?

Nitkin: Customers whose monthly bills are based on an annual average of their electricity and gas costs -- meaning those enrolled in BGE's budget-billing plan -- have already seen increases in their bills to reflect the 72 percent increase coming in July.

[Baltimore] Mayor [Martin] O'Malley's administration claimed that this increase was improper and asked the PSC to prohibit it, but the mayor's claim was rejected.

Carolyn Hicks, Joppa: Why didn't HB 1334 clear the Senate? It had [more than] 50 sponsors in the House. It would have put a 5 percent cap on electric rate increases and phased them in over the years. We wouldn't be "paying now or paying later." The [governor's] plan isn't any good!

Nitkin: The General Assembly passed several bills related to utilities, including a measure to give lawmakers veto power over a proposed Constellation-FPL merger, and a measure to dissolve the current PSC and reconstitute it with a majority of members approved by the Assembly. Those bills were acknowledged even by supporters to be leverage that lawmakers could use in negotiations with BGE to delay or lower rate increases.

The governor vetoed the bills, and the Assembly adjourned April 10 without overriding them. Reinstituting rate caps was discussed, but the company and many lawmakers acknowledged that caps would affect the company's finances and could lead to financial instability.

BGE has already held an auction to buy electricity supply for next year, and says its costs translate into a 72 percent increase for a typical customer. So, a 5 percent cap would appear to be a real hit for the company.

Penny, Baltimore: I would like to know all the names of the legislators that voted for the "deregulation" bill in 1999. Could you please provide this information, or direct me to where I might receive it?

Nitkin: This is the answer to the same question I provided last week -- but because interest seems to be high, I'll also cut and paste the vote tallies (which includes just last names of lawmakers, without party affiliation or district information). Please also note that there has been significant turnover in the Assembly between 1999 and today.

From last week: The vote list for the deregulation legislation is just a few clicks away. Go to the General Assembly's Web site, and click on "prior session information." Look for the bills from 1999, and plug in SB 300 and HB 703. You'll see the vote history, and if you click on the final votes listed for the House of Delegates and the Senate, you'll find the complete roll calls.

The votes (on the Senate bill; an identical House version -- HB 703 -- also passed):