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‘We’re here to say no,’ says Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, in announcing a coalition’s opposition to the Exelon-Pepco merger. (Bryan P. Sears)

Coalition: No acceptable path for Exelon merger

A coalition of environmental and community activists called on the Maryland Public Service Commission to reject a proposed merger between Exelon and Pepco Holdings.

“We’re here today not to say that the proposed merger as proposed is not good enough and that we want changes to the merger to bring a few sweeteners, a few million dollars here and there to solar interests or to ratepayers,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network. “We’re here to say no — we do not believe there is any path forward for this merger to go forward.”

The coalition, led by Chesapeake Climate Action Network, includes other organizations such as Public Citizen, Sierra Club Maryland Chapter, the Maryland Public Interest Research Group and the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council.

Tidwell and others said the proposed merger is not in the public interest. He said the group’s opposition is based on what he said was Exelon’s poor track record on renewable energy sources including wind and solar power.

“We believe the Public Service Commission should simply reject it or add the kind of conditions that will prompt the utilities to walk away from this deal,” Tidwell said.

Exelon, which owns BGE, is seeking to acquire Pepco Holdings in a $6.8 billion deal. Included in that deal is the utility company that serves 500,000 people in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.; Delmarva power, which serves 1.4 million people in Delaware and the Eastern Shore of Maryland; and Atlantic City Electric in southern New Jersey.

Representatives for Exelon did not respond to a request for comment.

Two weeks ago, The Coalition for Utility Reform, comprised of elected officials and town governments in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties as well as environmental groups, filed a petition to intervene Wednesday in the merger application before the Public Service Commission. In its filing, the group called on the commission to make the company reach standards for environmental stewardship, cost to customers, consumer satisfaction, reliability and innovation.

Roger Berliner, a Montgomery County Councilman and attorney for Coalition for Utility Reform, wrote that “for the commission to find that the proposed merger is in the public interest, it must include among the conditions it imposes tying at least 50 percent of the merged entity’s return on equity to meet performance metrics that will produce a more cost effective, reliable, cleaner, technologically advanced and consumer-directed distribution system.”

“The proposed merger has profound implications for the state of Maryland,” Berliner wrote in his September filing. “If approved, it would result in a single player being responsible for providing electric distribution services to approximately 85 percent of Maryland. For the residents who have suffered through unacceptably poor service by Pepco throughout the years, this proceeding will determine our fate going forward for decades to come.”

Berliner wrote that the coalition, along with other groups, believes the current model for utility service is outdated and that the commission should move toward a new model that would reward utilities for exceeding service goals but also impose penalties for falling short.

Tyson Slocum, energy program director for Washington, D.C.-based Public Citizen, said the merger could lead to a behemoth power company that would have too much influence in Maryland and within PJM Interconnection, the regional power transmission organization that serves all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia.

In July, PJM’s independent monitor and the Washington, D.C., People’s Counsel filed objections to the merger with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In that filing, the two entities argued that the merger would give Exelon too much power within PJM, according to Restructuringtoday.com.

Slocum said that power within PJM and in the state of Maryland would thwart efforts within the state to move to more solar and wind energy production.

The merger requires approval from each state in which the utilities operate as well as federal regulatory approval. A hearing before the Maryland Public Service Commission could come as soon as February.

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