Cooking with Gas in Mount Airy CARROLL COUNTY

August 09, 1993

How far we have come from the days of the energy panic, when cars lined up for blocks on alternate days to buy their costly fuel rations; when heating bills were soaring through the chimneys; when companies gambled billions of dollars on importing natural gas in refrigerated tankers. Jimmy Carter's "moral equivalent of war" quickly yielded to the consumer peace movement.

This memory-jogger arose at a Mount Airy town council meeting last month, when Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. asked for franchise permission to hook up the community to natural gas service.

It would be the first municipal franchise granted to the utility company in Carroll County in more than a quarter-century. Manchester approved a franchise in 1965, before the fuel shortages and tight government controls of the 1970s.

Strict federal regulations started to be lifted in 1978 and available gas supplies have burgeoned. New homes along existing pipelines were added to the BG&E system: they outnumbered oil-fired homes 2-to-1 last year. But only in the past four years has the Maryland company aggressively undertaken plans to extend natural gas pipelines into new service areas for both commercial and residential customers.

The energy company says that restaurants, supermarkets and other businesses along the Route 27 corridor were interested in gas service. That would be the first leg of the $1 million investment to bring the fuel to Mount Airy, which is only a half-mile from BG&E's existing main line along Interstate 70. The rapid development of new homes in the town also provides a pool of customers for the service, the utility noted.

Mount Airy council members seem to welcome the proposal, but are properly taking their time to draft their own franchising ordinance and to hold a public hearing to solicit community comments.

The council is also correct in insisting that the franchise, which will not be an exclusive one, be worded to offer service to the entire town, not just to the more lucrative business and industry locations. Given BG&E's extensive advertising campaign to sell homeowners on switching from oil to natural gas for heating and cooking, that wouldn't appear to present an obstacle to lighting the blue flame in Mount Airy.

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