Exelon, created by the merger of Chicago's Unicom and PECO in 2000, said it promised to maintain giving of about $3.2 million in Philadelphia through 2003. PECO said its giving has risen since. It expects to donate $5.5 million this year, on par with the past two.

There's no plan for a pullback in Maryland contributions after the mandate expires, Exelon said.

"Even after the 10 years is done, we'll still be in the community, doing the good work that we do," said Steve Solomon, Exelon's vice president of corporate relations.

BGE's CEO, Kenneth W. DeFontes Jr., said the utility has prided itself on community involvement for so long that "it's part of our DNA." BGE employees sit on more than 75 boards in the region and last year logged 18,500 hours of volunteering, the company said.

"We believe we have an obligation for giving back to the community," said DeFontes, chairman of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and a member of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore's board. It "helps us invigorate and improve the community in which we serve, and it also helps us get our message out about the things we care about. It really makes sense for us to do this."

In the 12 months since the merger, Exelon contributed just over the mandated $7 million in Maryland — most of it through its Constellation and BGE units.

BGE used to handle donations itself, years ago. After the reorganization that created Constellation, the new parent company took the lead. But now the pendulum is swinging back to BGE, which is gearing up to field most of the funding requests.

BGE officials say they are focusing donations in five areas: the environment, energy efficiency, education and the arts, economic and community development, and emergency response.

The 9,000 trees BGE is giving out first-come, first-served — via http://www.arborday.org/bge — fit into the first category. But the utility said customers also can save energy, and money, with well-placed shade.

Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, which builds affordable housing in the region, is another BGE beneficiary.

Last month, the utility pledged $300,000 over three years to help build energy-efficient Habitat homes, a follow to a five-year, $500,000 grant from Constellation. A BGE executive sits on Habitat's board. The charity regularly gets construction help from BGE volunteers.

The company's contributions to first-responders, meanwhile, were parceled out across the region in grants of up to $10,000.

The Baltimore Fire Department got 1,000 smoke alarms to install in homes. The Hereford Volunteer Fire Company in Monkton replaced the rusted-out bed of a pickup truck it uses to fight brush fires. North Point-Edgemere Volunteer Fire Department is putting its $10,000 toward the nearly $250,000 cost of replacing its 27-year-old fire rescue boat.

Joe Walters, a lieutenant at the North Point-Edgemere department, said he's grateful for the support. Firehouses have always relied on community donations, but it's hard these days, he said. Residents and small businesses are strapped.

"The money from fundraising has dwindled," he said.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

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Conditions of the merger

Maryland's Public Service Commission imposed several conditions on Exelon's takeover of Constellation Energy. Among them:

•Maintain $7 million in annual charitable contributions in Maryland for a decade.

•Develop up to 300 megawatts of new energy generation in Maryland, with more than half coming from renewable resources such as solar and wind.

•Provide $30 million to create an offshore wind development fund.

•Not lay off BGE employees for two years.

•Pay Baltimore Gas and Electric residential customers a rebate of $100 each, amounting to $112 million.

•Create a $113.5 million consumer investment fund that would help BGE customers with weatherization and energy efficiency programs and provide financial aid for low-income ratepayers.

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