In a settlement with Gov. Martin O'Malley over the proposed buyout of Constellation Energy Group, Exelon Corp. has promised to develop significantly more natural gas, wind and solar power in Maryland, give more money to help low-income customers and provide more protections for Baltimore Gas and Electric.
O'Malley said Wednesday evening that by agreeing to sweeten its commitments to Maryland, Chicago-based Exelon has gained his support. He had opposed the $7.9 billion buyout as it was originally structured.
Exelon spokeswoman Judith Rader confirmed Wednesday night that a settlement was reached, and said the companies are expected to make an announcement Thursday.
The deal, however, does not provide additional rate relief for BGE customers. Exelon and Constellation have pledged a $100 credit for each of BGE's 1.1 million residential customers. Instead of pushing for additional money for consumers immediately, O'Malley has advocated a long-term outlook by pushing for additional renewable energy development in Maryland.
Merger critics, including the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, have called on the companies to double that credit to $200 per residential customer. People's Counsel Paula Carmody declined Wednesday to comment on the settlement.
Administration officials said Wednesday that BGE customers have received $275 in rate credits over the past several years and noted that electricity prices have fallen.
"Though I opposed this merger for many months, I have joined this settlement with Exelon because I believe the company has met the extremely high bar that I demanded," O'Malley said in a statement to The Baltmore Sun. "We accomplished all of this while ensuring that BGE remains a locally managed utility protected from the risks inherent from a large holding company. The deal represents an unprecedented commitment on Exelon's part to become part of Maryland's future."
The settlement is separate from the deal's review before the Maryland Public Service Commission, which has the power to veto the proposed merger. O'Malley's support and the concessions could bolster the companies' standing before the commission, though the regulatory panel could condition its approval on additional commitments.
After holding 11 days of evidentiary hearings and three public comment sessions, and reading several hundred pages of documents, the Public Service Commission is expected to make a decision by Jan. 5. The commission does not comment on pending cases, said spokeswoman Regina Davis.
The commission must also approve the settlement, which is expected to be filed with the agency Thursday.
Merger opponent EDF, which owns nearly half of Constellation's nuclear plants, said in a statement Wednesday that it was surprised by the governor's settlement related to a transaction that "still poses significant risks to Maryland jobs and to the state's nuclear industry." EDF, which voted against the merger as Constellation's second-largest shareholder, has expressed concerns that the proposed merger would hurt local management and autonomy of its nuclear joint venture based in Maryland.
"Having invested many billions of dollars in Maryland, EDF is especially surprised that the interests of the state's nuclear industry are not included in the commitments Exelon has made to secure the Governor's support," EDF said. "EDF will continue to look to the PSC, which has sole responsibility for determining whether the merger is in the best interests of Maryland, to make a judgment on the transaction and protect Maryland's interests."
A foundation of the settlement is Exelon's commitment to develop up to 300 megawatts in energy generation in the state. Of that amount, more than half would be generated by renewable resources, such as solar power, wind farms and a plant fired by poultry manure. O'Malley had previously pushed for an even higher commitment.
The new power generation is expected to create thousands of temporary and permanent jobs in the state, including Baltimore.
One environmental group lauded Exelon's renewable energy commitments.
"I believe the governor's agreement with Exelon is historic for the people of Maryland, for a clean environment and for the fight against global warming," said Mike Tidwell, director of Chesapeake Climate Action Network, which is a party in the proposed merger's regulatory process.
Under the settlement, Exelon agreed to provide $30 million to create an offshore wind development fund, and to give another $2 million to a state public institution or university to support wind energy research and development.
The settlement also provides further protection for BGE in case Exelon runs into financial troubles such as bankruptcy.