A group headed by a Republican who plans to run in next year's gubernatorial election is blaming Gov. Martin O'Malley for rising utility costs, echoing one of O'Malley's campaign tactics against his predecessor.
O'Malley beat then-Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2006 on a platform that included criticism of that administration's handling of an impending spike in Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. rates.
Change Maryland — chaired by Larry Hogan, who said in November that he will enter the race for governor — issued a report card Monday that said Maryland residents' electricity rates are 43 percent higher now than they were when O'Malley took office. That compares with a 24 percent increase nationwide, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
The hike includes a large part of the 72 percent BGE rate increase that was already in the works before O'Malley took office — the rest had already taken effect in 2006.
Energy costs have fallen in the last few years, but distribution rates — the cost of delivering energy to customers — are rising. Last week Maryland's Public Service Commission approved BGE's second distribution rate increase of the year, citing the cost of improving infrastructure.
They also, in a divided vote, approved a monthly surcharge on electric customers for reliability work. That fee will begin at 8 cents on the average residential bill.
"The need for dramatic acceleration in the pace of infrastructure improvement causes us to look for new tools," the commission said in its order, pointing to "extreme weather events" such as last year's derecho.
But Hogan blamed higher costs on environment-minded state policies, such as Maryland's participation in a regional cap-and-trade program to reduce power plant emissions and a requirement that utilities purchase some renewable energy, as well as "a general lack of oversight and accountability" at the Public Service Commission.
"O'Malley ran on lower energy prices but then pushed an agenda which forced them to increase year over year," Hogan said in a statement.
Nina Smith, an O'Malley spokeswoman, argued that the governor "is focused on strengthening the resiliency of our state's energy infrastructure and improving reliability standards for Maryland consumers."
"The recent rate adjustment approved by the PSC — which will allow for timely recovery of accelerated reliability spending — is an important step in ensuring that our utilities can quickly respond to outages during weather events, and uphold the safety and durability of our State's energy infrastructure for years to come," she said in an email. "Change Maryland is a political organization run by someone trying to boost his own political ambitions — any claim they make should be viewed through that prism."
It's not the first time O'Malley has faced criticism over electric costs. Here's an op-ed written in 2007, as the rest of the BGE rate hike took effect.