BGE credit will be in Feb. bill

$100 for every customer a part of Md. conditions for Constellation deal with French company

December 02, 2009|By Hanah Cho

Residential customers of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. can expect to see a one-time $100 credit on their February bills, a welcome relief as the peak of the winter heating season approaches.

The credit is one of several conditions imposed by Maryland energy regulators in approving BGE parent Constellation Energy Group's $4.5 billion nuclear joint venture with Electricite de France, which closed early last month. EDF now owns nearly half of Constellation's nuclear power business.

At a hearing Tuesday, BGE lawyers updated the Maryland Public Service Commission on the status of the residential ratepayer credit as well as other measures to protect the utility in case its parent company runs into financial troubles in the future. Daniel Gahagan, BGE's vice president and general counsel, told commissioners that customers usually see their highest winter bills in February.

The anticipated relief comes after many customers experienced high bills for gas and electricity last winter. All residential customers, including those who have switched to an alternative electricity supplier, are eligible for the credit.

BGE officials expect consumers to see a decline in their bills as natural gas and electricity prices fall globally. Those lower costs will be reflected in bills over the coming months and years as Maryland utilities purchase power under long-term contracts, said Mark Case, BGE's senior vice president for regulatory affairs.

Monthly BGE electric bills are expected to decline up to 15 percent by 2012, from an average of $158 to about $140. Monthly gas bills are projected to drop as much as 25 percent this winter, to about $110 from nearly $147, according to BGE.

"There's going to be a steady trend down in power prices," Case said.

As part of the nuclear joint venture, EDF agreed to contribute $36 million to Constellation's charitable foundation, build a visitors center at Calvert Cliffs and move its U.S. headquarters to Maryland.

Mike Naeve, an attorney representing EDF, told PSC commissioners that the French utility has already made the charitable donation and expects to announce plans next year for the construction of the Calvert Cliffs visitors center and the relocation of its headquarters.

While the two companies have not made a definite decision to build a proposed third nuclear unit at Calvert Cliffs, they are pursuing the project.

The fate of the unit partly hinges on a decision by the U.S. Department of Energy on a federal loan guarantee considered key to financing it. A decision could come early next year.

The proposed unit has received approval by Maryland energy regulators but still requires the go-ahead by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Deborah Jennings, an attorney representing BGE, said the utility is on track to meet other conditions, including Constellation's making a $250 million cash infusion to BGE by June 30. And BGE expects to implement "ring-fencing" measures by early February to protect the utility from a potential bankruptcy by Constellation, Gahagan said.

"We continue to make progress on implementing the conditions set forth by the PSC's order approving the joint venture as well in partnership with the state of Maryland to develop new, clean energy technologies to help meet the state's future energy needs," Constellation spokesman Rob Gould said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Laura Smitherman contributed to this article.

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