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Facing criticism, US delays new electric rate plan

WASHINGTON -- Federal regulators agreed yesterday to delay a new electricity rate plan for New England until late 2006 but will hear arguments on the embattled proposal next month.

The decision comes after mounting criticism from governors, attorneys general and other elected officials, who contend the ISO New England proposal will boost prices by up to 24 percent but won't guarantee the generation of more power.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said proposed rate changes, if approved, would not begin until October 2006. And, in response to requests from Massachusetts and the other five New England states, the commission will hear oral arguments in the case on Sept. 20.

US Representative Edward Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, said that the commission ''will hear some compelling arguments" against the plan, ''and I hope they will consider the harm this proposal would inflict on the entire New England region very, very carefully."

The plan would set up separate pricing regions, and the extra fees would be funneled to power companies as development incentives.

Southwestern Connecticut and the Boston area have been identified as regions that need power transmission upgrades.

Maine officials say up to 1,500 jobs in their state could be lost as a result of the decrease in consumer spending resulting from the rate increase.

ISO New England, which operates the regional power grid, would need a decision by Sept. 15 in order to implement the new rating system by Jan. 1, as originally intended, the commission said.

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