BGE subsidiary under fire, again Independents attack appliance-repair arm

February 17, 1996|By Kevin L. McQuaid | Kevin L. McQuaid,SUN STAFF

A band of independent heating and air-conditioning contractors is hoping the third time is the charm in a legislative effort aimed at checking the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s appliance service business.

The introduction of five bills in the House of Delegates this week marks the latest move in a three-year battle by the Maryland Alliance for Fair Competition to limit BGE's activity in the appliance repair market.

Attempts by the alliance to push legislation through the General Assembly failed in the past two years.

The group also suffered a setback last year when the state's Public Service Commission said BGE does not subsidize its unregulated subsidiaries.

The five new bills, introduced by Reps. Katherine Klausmeier and Don B. Hughes, would "level the playing field" between the contractors and the $8.1 billion utility, a subsidiary of which operates 10 retail stores, services appliances, and provides kitchen and bathroom remodeling.

BGE, the alliance claims, unfairly provides advantages to its Home Products & Services Inc. subsidiary by using utility advertising and marketing money and intelligence to gain customers.

"We're not afraid of competing equally with BGE, but we're not getting a fair chance to compete," said Larry LeDoyen, executive director of the alliance. "The fate of many of Maryland's independent contractors depends on this legislation."

This year, the alliance hired former Baltimore County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen to lobby for it.

Bills also have been introduced in the Senate.

The House legislation package also seeks a prohibition on subsidization of nonutility subsidiaries by power concerns, would allow the Office of the People's Counsel to investigate utilities and asks for a review of utility cost allocation manuals for accuracy whenever rate changes are filed.

William H. Munn, president of BGE Home Products & Services, attacked the legislation and said the alliance has failed repeatedly to prove that BGE subsidizes or unfairly gives advantages to its subsidiaries.

"If what they want is for us to turn over our business to them, and I think that's their real intent," he said, "that's just not going to happen."

Mr. Munn said Home Products & Services implemented a $300,000 telecommunications network Wednesday to further separate its operations from those of BGE.

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