If any other customer had done this, the power company probably would have turned off the lights by now.
But this time, the customer with the big, past due electric bill is the state of Maryland.
It seems that the state government owes Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. at least $400,000, and possibly as much as $1.8 million, for electricity it used over over a period of at least two years in the Baltimore state office buildings at 201 and 301 W. Preston St.
Officials say they never failed to pay the bill.
They say the state never received one.
It happened, officials say, because someone connected a major electric cable in the buildings' limited-access mechanical room in such a way that it bypassed BG&E;'s electric meters.
As a result, the meters were unable to clock the consumption of electricity in hundreds of state offices in the side-by-side high-rise buildings.
No one discovered the slip-up until BG&E; repairmen responded to a power outage at the building in March 1992, state and BG&E; officials said yesterday.
A meter was subsequently installed, and since then the state has been paying its full electric bill for the office complex.
"Needless to say, the state has always paid what it has been billed," said Dave Humphrey, a spokesman for the Department of General Services.
"This disputed charge was not billed until last year."
The problem now is that the state and the utility can't agree on how long the unmetered electricity flowed, or how much the state owes in back payments.
Frederick W. Puddester, deputy budget secretary to Gov. William Donald Schaefer, confirmed yesterday that the governor's budget for fiscal year 1995 will include a $400,000 "deficiency appropriation" to cover a portion of the unpaid electric bill.
He said that was roughly equivalent to one year's power usage at the Preston Street complex.
The budget is to be submitted to the Maryland General Assembly tomorrow.
This year's budget, Mr. Puddester said, already includes an extra $500,000 in anticipation of the bill for newly metered electricity that had not been billed in previous years.
But state sources familiar with the dispute say that BG&E; officials believe that the state owes as much as $1.8 million for the unmetered power.
BG&E; spokesman Arthur J. Slusark, saying that billing disputes with customers are confidential, would neither confirm nor deny the figure.
But he acknowledged that negotiations with the state are continuing "over an unpaid utility bill."
"In these particular types of disputes or situations, we always want to keep every option available," he said.
"We're in active negotiations, but we certainly would not rule out any particular course of action. Hopefully, it will be resolved."