Several community groups in the Baltimore region expressed support for Constellation Energy Group's plan to sell itself to Chicago-based Exelon Corp. at a public hearing Tuesday in Bel Air.

The lightly attended hearing was the first of three public comment hearings to be held by the Maryland Public Service Commission, which is reviewing the $7.9 billion deal. The next public hearings are scheduled for Thursday in Baltimore and Dec. 5 in Annapolis.

Many of the two dozen people attending Tuesday's hearing were officials from Constellation and Exelon, attorneys representing the two firms and consumer advocates.

Only four people spoke at the public hearing, which lasted around 20 minutes. Supporters included the Baltimore Building and Construction Trade Council, the Walter and Betty Ward Family Center of the Y of Central Maryland in Abingdon and the American Red Cross of Central Maryland.

Suzanne Green, director of the Ward Family Center, said the group has enjoyed Constellation's philanthropic contribution over the years and hopes such support would "continue and expand" with the proposed merger.

But Abingdon resident Mark Fraker said the proposed merger raised many questions, such as the impact on Constellation jobs and electricity rates charged by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

"How will Maryland and its residents be affected by this merger?" Fraker said. "Will it be positive for residents or a negative thing?"

The Public Service Commission, which has the power to veto the deal, is tasked with ensuring the proposed merger is in the public interest and will benefit BGE customers.

PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian said "the opportunity to get public input" is an important part of the regulatory process.

"We appreciate the opportunity to hear from members of the public who have views on the companies, the transaction or the conditions that we might consider imposing if we were to approve it," Nazarian told the crowd.

Rod Easter, president of the Baltimore Building and Construction Trade Council, said the proposed merger would help the local economy. The two companies have committed to renovating an existing facility or building a new headquarters in downtown Baltimore.

"The construction industry is the first to be hit by the economic downturn and the last to recover," Easter said. "We're looking at this to bring jobs to the community."

Earlier this month, the PSC wrapped up 11 days of regulatory hearings. The commission is expected to make a decision by Jan. 5.

In selling the deal to regulators and ratepayers, Exelon and Constellation officials offered a $250 million incentive package, including a one-time $100 rate credit for each of BGE's 1.1 million residential customers, as well as contributions to the state's green energy goals.

The merger would lead to the elimination of about 600 positions across the two companies, but the job reductions would be felt most in Baltimore, affecting Constellation's legal, information technology, financial and other corporate departments, according to Exelon officials.

The Maryland Energy Administration, consumer advocates and others say Exelon and Constellation need to provide additional protections and concessions to make the deal more palatable.

The deal also requires other federal regulatory approval. Shareholders of Exelon and Constellation signed off on the transaction this month.

hanah.cho@baltsun.com

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