Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.'s decision to buy power from an independent, non-regulated producer is a response to the increasing pressure on U.S. utilities to conserve. Instead of undertaking costly new construction to serve its growing market, BG&E is following a sensible course: reducing future outlays by encouraging energy conservation as well as purchasing, instead producing, the added power it needs. This should keep prices down for consumers in the years ahead.
Laws in Maryland and other states give utilities strong incentives to push for cutbacks in power usage. That coincides with world pressures on carbon dioxide production and with new environmental pressures from federal Clean Air Act revisions.
Coal-fired generating plants, such as those used by BG&E, are increasingly difficult to build. Gaining approval for a site is impossibly difficult due to opposition from environmental groups, neighbors and competing business interests. Additionally, the new Clean Air Act adds hundreds of millions of dollars to construction costs. Engineers must either add stack-gas scrubbers, or transport less-polluting coal from distant regions. Newer technologies, such as fluidized-bed, limestone-injection boilers or combined-cycle coal-gas power plants, promise up to 50-percent reductions in carbon-dioxide production and drastic cuts in other polluting gases. But the industry has yet fully to embrace them.