BGE clears hurdle in attempt to enter steam heat market

November 17, 1995|By Robert Guy Matthews | Robert Guy Matthews,SUN STAFF

In the quest to control steam heat to downtown buildings, Baltimore Gas and Electric yesterday won critical approval of a City Council committee to allow it to enter the market exclusively run for 10 years by rival energy company, Trigen-Baltimore Energy Corp.

BGE officials called the Highways and Franchises Committee's approval good for competition and said customers will benefit. Trigen representatives maintained that in the long run, customers will lose because BGE could drive the company out of business and create a monopoly.

The matter goes for a full council vote on Monday.

"We're pleased that the bill went through without any major changes," said Stephen F. Wood, president and CEO of Energy Projects and Services, a BGE subsidiary.

For months, BGE has mounted an aggressive campaign so that it could invest $50 million in providing heating and chilled water to the large businesses downtown. Trigen has lobbied city politicians and decision-makers to stop BGE.

Trigen's president, James J. Abromitis, has warned that BGE's target of only the large businesses, which are the most profitable, would force Trigen to charge the smaller customers higher prices to cover the costs of its antiquated system. He warned that some of those customers could switch to another form of heating, such as gas or electric, and cause Trigen to go out of business.

Trigen asked the committee, headed by Councilwoman Paula Johnson Branch of the 2nd District, to allow BGE to provide only chilled water to downtown. It also wanted the committee to shrink the downtown area to which BGE could provide water. The committee did neither.

BGE officials said Trigen was using "smoke and mirrors" to draw attention away from the fact that Trigen simply wanted to maintain its hold on steam heat.

Mr. Abromitis said the committee's decision has not knocked the fight out of the company.

"We're going to sit down and determine what action we can still take," he said.

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