Pa. parent weighs sale of COPCO

February 16, 1994|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Sun Staff Writer

Facing the possibility of its Maryland operation being forced to buy electricity from other, lower-priced utilities, Philadelphia-based PECO Energy Co. said yesterday that it was exploring whether to sell its Conowingo Power Co. operation in Cecil County.

PECO, formerly known as Philadelphia Electric Co., said it retained Morgan Stanley & Co., the New York investment banking firm, to test the market for a possible sale of Conowingo.

But the utility company said a sale of Conowingo Power (COPCO) was not definite.

"PECO Energy Co. has made no determination to sell COPCO and may, in fact, retain ownership of COPCO at the end of this evaluation," the company's statement said.

The potential sale of Conowingo comes as the Maryland Public Service Commission is holding hearings on whether Conowingo, which has no generating plant of its own, should buy electricity from other utilities to supply its 35,000 customers in Cecil County.

Conowingo has traditionally received its electricity from its parent, PECO.

But with PECO's electric rates running about 15 percent higher than its neighboring utilities, Cecil County officials have pressed for Conowingo to buy its electricity from these other companies.

A sale of Conowingo would be "a final solution to the Conowingo problem," said state People's Counsel John M. Glynn, the state official who represents ratepayers before the PSC.

"We view this as a positive development in the rate issue," W. Edwin Cole Jr., president of the Board of Cecil County Commissioners, said in a statement. "Sale of COPCO to a lower-cost utility could lead to a meaningful long-term solution to our high electric rates."

The Conowingo transmission and distribution system, which does not include the Conowingo Hydroelectric Station on the Susquehanna River, has facilities worth about $78 million, according to PECO spokesman Neil McDermott.

Each of the three neighboring utilities to Conowingo -- Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., Delmarva Power & Light Co. and Pennsylvania Power and Light Co. -- said they might be interested in buying Conowingo if it were put up for sale.

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