Energy ratesLaura Elion, Annapolis: If, according to [a recent Sun] article (and a person attached to the Public Service Commission), there are 81 licensed suppliers ... why does the PSC's Web site list only three (BGE, WGES and Pepco)?
Nitkin: I haven't begun shopping for a provider myself, but some companies are beginning to express interest in providing residential service in Maryland. The PSC's deregulation information Web site says that 23 companies are licensed to provide power in the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. service area. But the vast majority of them are not yet marketing themselves as service providers. To be sure, all observers agree that there is no true residential competition for electricity in Maryland today.
Nikki, Perry Hall: So, is this thing over? Did [Gov. Robert L.] Ehrlich [Jr.] lie to us all when he said the 72 percent rise "will not stand?" Are we stuck with this pitiful, pathetic plan that just stretches out the pain while energy executives roll in cash and smile with glee that they've held Maryland hostage?
They presented a plan, said take it or else, and Ehrlich rolled right over like a trained puppy after barking a little bit. Now, they'll get their merger -- so Constellation gets everything they want pretty much when they want it, makes record profits and all we get are interest charges. Is there any chance the 72 percent increase really won't stand, or should we resign ourselves to it now?
Nitkin: If the courts and the PSC agree that the rate deferral plan negotiated by Ehrlich takes effect, those who choose to enroll in the plan will see first-year increases on average of 19.4 percent. But rates will rise to market rates in three years. The city of Baltimore is suing to have the PSC reconsider the deferral plan, however, so the situation is a bit cloudy at present. Additionally, members of the General Assembly continue to talk about a special session on utility issues, although there is no clear consensus on what lawmakers could do that could lower rates.
BGE residential electricity rates are still scheduled to rise an average of 72 percent on July 1, and budget billing customers have already begun paying the increase.
George, Baltimore: In a previous question from Dave in Bel Air you pointed out that all Republicans in the General Assembly in 1999 voted for the deregulation. What about the Democrats? Did they all votes for it as well?
Nitkin: Democrats were divided on the 1999 vote. Legislative leaders voted for the deregulation plan, but many African-American Democratic lawmakers and some of the Assembly's most liberal members voted against it.
Barry, Baltimore: In my opinion, a special session of the legislature needs to be called in order to re-establish leverage on BGE. A threat of a bill to replace the PSC members and to reconsider the merger would certainly create this leverage. Local leaders are blaming their leadership for an inability to come up with a plan and for not calling for a special session.
It seems abundantly clear that Senate President [Thomas V.] Mike Miller and, to a lesser degree, [House Speaker] Michael [E.] Busch are primarily being blamed for the BGE debacle. This blame for the House and Senate leaders will only intensify as BGE bill increases arrive. What are your thoughts on this strategy and what chances do Busch and Miller have for re-election?
Nitkin: The re-election chances of Busch and Miller are strong. They are popular in their districts and effective campaigners, with plenty of money to spend. As for a special session, if lawmakers reconvene without a clear plan and are reduced to bickering, they will look ineffective in the public eye during an election year. Lawmakers want to avoid this, so they are proceeding cautiously. The bills you mention were passed by the legislature this year and vetoed by the governor. It does not seem that passing them again would have an immediate impact on rates.
ElectionsMike, Baltimore: With all the political bickering between Republicans and Democrats, do you see any potential of having more third-party candidates than usual elected to office this November?
Nitkin: Having a single third-party candidate elected would be more than usual. The most visible third-party candidate has been Kevin Zeese, who is running for the U.S. Senate on a "fusion" ticket of three minor parties, including the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. He is a strong debater, but his chances of winning are poor. Accepting your term, political bickering (some would call it healthy debate over agendas and philosophies) is just as likely to keep voters away from the ballot box as it is to help elect minor-party candidates.
Judy, Sykesville: All I've heard about the early voting law is the political rhetoric. Can you please provide just the facts? Who can vote? Where can we vote? When can we vote? As I have never been asked for identification when I vote, how will they know if I've voted only once? Will they know if I vote early, then vote again at my regular polling place on Election Day?
Nitkin: Under early voting, any voter can vote in his or her assigned precinct or in an early voting precinct. (Only voters registered in a political party can vote in that party's primary -- there are no "open primaries" in Maryland.)
Under state law (SB 478 of 2005), Baltimore City and the following counties will have at least three early voting precincts: Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's. All others will have at least one.
A subsequent law, passed this year (HB 1368), spells out more details. The 2006 law lists the specific locations of the precincts in seven largest jurisdictions: