Conowingo Power Co. customers could see an average 34 percent increase in their electric bills over the next five years if a rate increase is granted.

Conowingo serves about 4,000 customers in Harford County and 29,000 customers in Cecil County, according to utility statistics.

The Elkton-based company filed a rate-increase request with the state Public Service Commission on Monday. The company last increased rates in 1986.

If approved, the increase would mean that the average residential customer using 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity in a month would pay $52.87 annually for that service by 1992, up $2 from the 1991 average annual bill of $50.87, the utility said.

By 1996 -- the last year of the five-year phased-in rate increases -- the increases would mean the average customer would pay $68.31 annually.

Despite the proposed increases, Conowingo President, Samuel M. Gawthrop Jr. says Conowingo's service rates would be comparable to the rates charged by other area power utilities.

Customers of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which serves most of central Maryland, pay about $52 annually for using 500 kilowatt-hours of electricity

monthly. Philadelphia Electric Co. customers pay about $74 a year.

The rateincrease would generate a $16.9 million increase in revenues for Conwingo Power.

Conowingo, an electric distribution company with no generating units of its own, buys electricity from its parent company,Philadelphia Electric Co.

The company needs the rate increase because Philadelphia Electric is increasing its rate for wholesale electricity buyers, Gawthrop said.

In June, Philadelphia Electric fileda request with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to increase its wholesale rates to Conowingo by $14.8 million a year, which represents a 40 percent increase, Gawthrop said.

The rate increase alsois needed to help pay for new distribution facilities to meet the growing demand for electrical services in the company's territory, Gawthrop said.

Since 1986, the population in the company's territory has increased 18 percent and electric sales have increased 37 percent,according to company statistics.

Frank Fulton, spokesman for the state PSC, said the agency's review of the company's request will take about seven months. Any granted rate increase would take affect late this year or early next year.

The commission will schedule a public hearing to allow customers to comment on the rate increase. The date for the hearing will be advertised in local newspapers, Fulton said.

Letters on the utility's request can be sent to the commissionin care of the executive secretary, 231 E. Baltimore St., Baltimore,21202. And a copy of Conowingo's application is available to the public at the company's offices at 213 North St., Elkton.

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