Higher rates for BG&E; opposed at Bel Air hearing


BEL AIR -- In their first chance to tell the state what they thought of Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.'s request for a $194 million rate increase, utility customers had one word last night: Ridiculous.

The Maryland Public Service Commission should reject BG&E;'s proposal to raise residential electric rates 12 percent next year, said Jim Braun of Jarrettsville.

"We expect when a company is properly run it gets a fair return, and I'm in favor of nuclear energy," he said.

But the Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant in Southern Maryland has been shut down for the past 18 months because of "management problems," Mr. Braun said.

"When a company is poorly run in the private sector, it can't make a profit . . . the rate increase is ridiculous," he said.

Though only 20 people showed up at Southampton Middle School at the first evening hearing for public comments on BG&E;'s rate request, state officials said it was the biggest gathering at such a meeting in the last five years, and PSC Chairman Frank Heintz said he expects bigger crowds at tonight's Randallstown hearing and Thursday night's hearing in Hampstead.

The PSC will consider evidence and expert testimony gathered at daytime hearings in deciding the bulk of BG&E;'s case. But Mr. Heintz said the five commissioners use public reaction to help them decide how much profit the Baltimore-based utility should earn.

The speakers at last night's hearing urged the commissioners to punish BG&E; for its problems with Calvert Cliffs.

Virginia Bennett of Havre de Grace urged the commission, "Don't throw good money after bad," asserting that nuclear energy is dangerous. "We should spend our money on less expensive and safer technologies," Ms. Bennett said.

Cliff Anderson of Baltimore asked the commission to force BG&E; stockholders to pay for the repairs to Calvert Cliffs and other construction costs that are covered in the rate increase request. "And I am a stockholder. . . . I made the mistake of buying the stock. Stockholders should pay," he said.

Bob Allen of Kingsville said there was plenty of waste in BG&E.; "You've got somebody there you can call who can tell you how to boil an egg . . . and there are certainly enough stores in this area where you buy stoves. You don't need them to do that," he said.

BG&E; spokesman Art Slusark conceded that the utility does have employees who give advice on how to use appliances.

Mr. Slusark said he was concerned about the criticisms expressed by BG&E; customers and that he wasn't surprised by the sentiment against a rate increase at the hearing.

"The people who don't want you to get the increase are going to come out," he said.

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