Utility ads try to sell nuclear deal

Constellation Energy Group has launched an aggressive public relations campaign, with advertising in print, on the radio and online, to garner support for a deal to sell half its nuclear power business to a French utility.

The Baltimore company's efforts come as the first of three hearings to solicit public comment begins Wednesday in Annapolis. Maryland regulators are reviewing the $4.5 billion deal with Electricite de France to determine whether it is in the public's best interest.

Constellation is trying to get in front of what had been a public tussle between the company and Gov. Martin O'Malley involving behind-the-scenes negotiations for a settlement. O'Malley had sought to wage a public campaign, laying out his case in an editorial and a Webcast to try to wring concessions from Constellation, the parent of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. In July, O'Malley rejected Constellation's proposal, arguing that it did not go far enough.

Meanwhile, several public interest groups involved in the review before the Maryland Public Service Commission are trying to make sure that ratepayers are not harmed by the deal.

Using social media such as Twitter and traditional advertising, Constellation is extolling the benefits of the EDF venture as well as spelling out what would be lost if the deal is not approved.

"This is an effort to get the facts out, free of any misinformation or political rhetoric, and in a way that is clear about what's on the line for the state of Maryland," said Constellation spokesman Rob Gould, who said people want to hear directly from the company.

The company also launched a Web site, Constellationenergyfocus.com, where visitors can find information about the nuclear venture. An online petition in support of the deal began Friday and had collected more than 2,800 signatures as of Tuesday.

Print advertising began Sunday with a full-page ad in The Capital, in Annapolis, and others will follow in The Baltimore Sun and other newspapers.

Using the headline, "Maryland's Clean Energy Future Is On the Line," Constellation says thousands of new jobs, $130 million in tax revenue to the state and increased investment in the state's energy infrastructure would be at stake without the proposed joint venture.

One-minute radio spots are running during morning and afternoon drive times on several stations, including WBAL, until the end of the month.

Gould declined to say how much Constellation is spending on its ad campaign.

The hearing in Annapolis is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Joint Committee Hearing room, Department of Legislative Services Building, 90 State Circle.

Other public hearings are planned at 7 p.m. Sept. 17 at the War Memorial Building, 101 N. Gay St., in Baltimore and 7 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Town Hall, 39 N. Hickory Ave., in Bel Air.

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