Despite OK for plant, BG&E downplays outlook

April 20, 1991|By Kim Clark

Though Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s prospects have brightened since it won federal approval to restart one of its long-dark nuclear power units, the continuing economic downturn may forestall a hoped-for rebound this year, company officials said yesterday.

Describing 1990 as "a difficult year," BG&E Chairman George V. McGowan told several hundred stockholders that unseasonably mild weather and economic problems are expected to continue to suppress sales in 1991. The stockholders were gathered at Marriott's Hunt Valley Inn for the utility's annual meeting.

But utility officials said that they expected sales to pick up and finish

the year 2.5 percent ahead of 1990.

BG&E, which in 1990 saw its first decline in gas and electric sales in a decade, said sales in the first three months of this year were flat and haven't yet shown much sign of increased economic activity.

Though the state approved a 4.7 percent electricity rate increase in December, higher operating costs meant that profits from the utility's energy operations rose less than 3 percent for the quarter.

And the company earned nothing during the first quarter of 1991 from Constellation Holdings Inc., its unregulated investment arm that runs real estate developments, alternative energy plants, nursing homes and a festival marketplace in Orlando, Fla.

In fact, Constellation's operations received the most criticism from shareholders during the meeting. Several asked why the utility had invested money in non-energy operations and why the division was paying only a 5.6 percent return on the utility's investment.

While conceding that Constellation's profits were lower than he'd like, Mr. McGowan defended the division, saying that the real estate investments would pay off in the long term.

He also said that Constellation's equity interests in 24 alternative energy plants -- ranging from solar energy to high-technology coal-burning generators -- would pay off both economically and operationally by educating company employees about new methods of generating electrici

ty.

Mr. McGowan and other company officials added, however, that BG&E would focus Constellation's efforts on energy in the future.

Constellation hopes to sell a Florida property called Church Street Station, he said.

In a separate matter, Mr. McGowan said that though the company had received federal permission to activate the second unit of the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant, which has been shut for repairs for two years, an equipment problem has delayed the restart until late next week.

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