Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., eyeing projected growth in Mount Airy, has asked the Town Council for permission to provide natural gas to residents and businesses there.
"Mount Airy is going to be a hub for the tri-county area -- Howard, Frederick and Carroll [counties]," Frank R. Wanken, a BG&E; corporate affairs representative, said yesterday. "There's potential growth and that certainly gets a utility company excited."
BG&E; officials attended Monday's Town Council meeting to discuss a franchise agreement. Some council members raised concerns about the safety of natural gas and the use of plastic pipes.
Council President R. Delaine Hobbs said BG&E; officials are expected to attend the council's Aug. 2 meeting. He said the council may introduce an ordinance then to grant the company a franchise agreement to operate within town limits.
The town is not served by any natural gas lines. A franchise agreement would permit BG&E; to build gas lines and offer its services within town limits. It would not be an exclusive franchise, town and company officials said.
The company has a franchise agreement for Carroll County, and a limited agreement with Frederick County, providing gas only to property owners along the length of a pipeline that crosses the county. Mount Airy straddles the Carroll and Frederick border.
"I think it's probably a good thing," Mr. Hobbs said of the franchise. "It would be good for industry and would be a savings for households. I think it's very feasible."
Mr. Wanken said the company's marketing surveys show that restaurants and businesses in Mount Airy are interested in using natural gas for heat sources and cooking. He said natural gas is the preferred heating source by homebuilders.
The availability of natural gas would mean fuel choices for Mount Airy's nearly 4,000 residents, who now use propane, oil or electricity, he said.
"We see a lot of [people] converting from oil," he said. "We just have to bring a pipe into a building and eliminate storage tanks. A lot of people have concerns about underground storage tanks, and there are a lot of laws and regulations about storage tanks."
Mr. Wanken said he didn't know how many customers the company would gain if the Town Council approves a natural gas franchise. He said he didn't know the cost of installing pipes there, but he noted that BG&E; already has a 20-inch, interstate feeder main pipeline along Route 144 that crosses Route 27 just south of Mount Airy.
"All we need to do is tap the pipeline and bring it up Route 27 and go wherever is necessary in Mount Airy," he said.
Mr. Wanken said natural gas would be a boon for economic development and would help attract businesses to industrial parks.
"We think Mount Airy is beautiful," he said. "I-70 is a minute way. Natural gas is sometimes the final [drawing card] needed to sell some commercial and industrial operations."
Regarding the council members' concerns about plastic, Mr. Wanken said BG&E; officials returned to Mount Airy Wednesday to show town officials what the plastic pipes look like and how they are connected. He said the company buys only the best plastic and recently laid plastic lines along Westminster's reconstructed Main Street.
"Plastic is 50 percent cheaper than steel," he said. "We can reach gas customers at less cost, and that means less cost for the customer. It makes sense."
Mr. Wanken said the last municipal franchise granted to the company was in Manchester in 1965. Most municipal agreements were written in the 1920s and 1930s.
"We really look forward to working with the town," he said. "We're a good corporate neighbor. We get involved in towns and cities."
BG&E; has 525,000 gas customers in metropolitan Baltimore, and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.