- The Enterprise
- The Recorder
Southern Maryland legislators plan to formally request that Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) consider filling a vacancy on the Maryland Public Service Commission with someone who lives within the service area of the region’s electric cooperative.
Sen. Thomas “Mac” Middleton (D-Charles) broached the subject this month during a legislative delegation meeting in Annapolis, noting along with Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative officials that none of the commission’s current members hail from a region served by a co-op.
“It’s our understanding that there’s never been a member of the commission from SMECO’s service territory,” the cooperative’s spokesman, Tom Dennison, said in a follow-up interview. “We have a tremendous amount of issues that go before the commission — whether they are new transmission lines or our rate structure or our smart meter deployment plans — and we’re very proud to be an electric cooperative. We’re very proud we’re a not-for-profit and that we’re different, and many times we feel like having that recognition on the commission would be helpful.”
A spot on the five-member commission, which regulates the state’s public utilities, opened up last month when O’Malley appointed then-PSC chairman Douglas R.M. Nazarian to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Commissioners Kelly Speakes-Backman and Harold Williams live in Baltimore Gas and Electric’s service territory, and chairman W. Kevin Hughes and commissioner Lawrence Brenner live in areas served by Pepco and Potomac Edison, respectively, PSC spokeswoman Regina Davis said in an email.
A Southern Maryland candidate has not been identified, but Middleton stressed the importance “that we’re all on the same sheet of music” in support of the same person.
However, Del. Sally Y. Jameson (D-Charles), who chairs the delegation, said last week it is unlikely the delegation will recommend a specific candidate to the governor but simply request that someone from the region be considered.
Middleton said the need for representation on the commission was exemplified by its ruling a year ago that utilities could not bill their customers for more than the first 24 hours of a major power outage, incentivizing the speedy restoration of power.
But for a co-op, whose ratepayers double as its owners, “it’s like you’re punishing yourself” if you can’t recoup losses during a power outage, Middleton said.
“We need to have somebody on [the PSC] that can really elevate the awareness” of the differences between investor-owned utilities and co-ops, he said.
Dennison said SMECO has contacted representatives of the Choptank Electric Cooperative — the only other major electric co-op in the state, which distributes power in areas of all nine counties on the Eastern Shore — and they’re on board with the request.
Jameson said she feels it is important “more than anything to have someone who represents a co-op and understands the issues that are different for them than for an investor-owned utility,” though she would naturally prefer someone from SMECO’s service area.
If a candidate from Choptank’s territory were chosen, “that’s not a problem, but we kind of think it’s our turn at the table,” Jameson said.
“I think what the delegation ... is just asking the governor for consideration of the co-ops, and reminding the governor that we have 150,000 customers” in Southern Maryland, Dennison said.
Sen. Roy Dyson (D-St. Mary’s, Calvert, Charles) mentioned at the delegation meeting that the planned expansion of the Dominion Cove Point liquid natural gas plant in Lusby would make the region even more worthy of representation on the commission.
The project, estimated to cost between $2.5 billion and $3.5 billion, would expand the plant’s natural gas terminal to allow export of LNG.
An O’Malley spokeswoman said via email that the governor hopes to fill the vacancy “as soon as possible.”
Middleton called for the delegation to submit its request in time for O’Malley to consider it ahead of his annual “green bag” appointments on Feb. 15.
Each year, Maryland’s governor submits to the legislature, in a traditional green satchel, names for a swath of appointments to various state boards and commissions.
“There’s people standing in line for these appointments, believe me,” Middleton said. “I’m sure that he’ll want to make the decision while we’re in session.”