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Utility deregulation: A bad deal 20 years ago is still a bad deal today | READER COMMENTARY

A new 50-year license for the Conowingo Dam got key federal approval recently, but environmental groups say the agreement is a missed opportunity to compel Exelon, which runs the dam, to do more to stop pollutants flowing down the Susquehanna River and into the Chesapeake Bay. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun).
A new 50-year license for the Conowingo Dam got key federal approval recently, but environmental groups say the agreement is a missed opportunity to compel Exelon, which runs the dam, to do more to stop pollutants flowing down the Susquehanna River and into the Chesapeake Bay. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun). (Kenneth K. Lam)

Former Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening’s recent commentary, “Energy deregulation was a mistake in Maryland” (March 17), arrives more than 20 years too late. The Texas energy debacle apparently moved him to tell some of the truth regarding Maryland’s own electric deregulation woes since the legislation was passed at the turn of the century. And under the heading of “It’s never too late to say I told you so,” our state politicians who were in office then and voted for it are, hopefully, ashamed and embarrassed by even the partial truth.

There were hundreds of advocates in Annapolis at the end of the 1990s all saying basically the same thing: If this passes, there will be bad outcomes for our state. Former Governor Glendening mentions a few of our concerns. “Since the decision, Maryland legislators have been working to put the genie back in the bottle after deregulation led to price increases of 50-75%, deceptive marketing practices and a lack of regulation to hold wholesalers accountable.” And this gem: “At the time, deregulation proponents touted benefits such as increased liability and stability of service, but Marylanders experienced the opposite.” There is more in his piece and every utility bill-paying consumer should pay attention.

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Unfortunately, the advocates and even common sense were largely ignored. In my opinion (and I am certainly not alone), we lost out to the big money interests who wined, dined and financially supported as many key legislators as they could. As my boss at the time said, “We’ve got to do our best because we’re going up against the $2,000 suits.” Read that as lobbyists with money. I met some of them then and guess what? Several of those suits were worn by Texans.

Finally, there was perhaps the dumbest decision in this whole mess: The politicians and Maryland Public Service Commission decided that the paltry sum of $6 million (considering how much profit was soon going to flow) was set aside to educate consumers about choosing an electricity supplier. Dumb because it was one-time funding and because it was allowed to be spent several years before Maryland’s “competitive market” even got established!

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Had a stranger knock on your day lately and say he or she can save you a lot on your utility bill? I hope you did not fall for the many bad deals that are still out there 20-plus years later.

Richard Doran, Baltimore

Add your voice: Respond to this piece or other Sun content by submitting your own letter.

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