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Inside City Hall: First slug of Exelon merger money coming to city

The mayor brings home the bacon with low-income energy assistance.

Above: A pot of energy-assistance gold is coming to the city, courtesy of the Exelon-Constellation merger.

Tomorrow the Board of Estimates will formally accept the first installment of $52,876,304 awarded to the City of Baltimore for energy assistance and education.

It’s part of a $113 million pot of money that Exelon Corp. is required to set aside by the Public Service Commission as a condition for state approval of its 2012 merger with Constellation Energy.

(Another condition was the requirement that Exelon build a new headquarters building in downtown Baltimore. That led to the company picking Harbor Point over the Inner Harbor, which became a key reason for the city to subsidize Harbor Point with $107 million in TIF bonds approved after a bruising battle last night.)

Exelon’s Customer Investment Fund is aimed at benefiting low-income families and communities and also developing innovative energy-saving programs. Soon after the plan was announced, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake directed city agencies to craft an integrated proposal.

The result was a program with an incredible name – Coordinating Resources to Effectively Align and Transform Energy Services, or CREATES – that was sent to the PSC.

Mayor Makes the Case

The agency looked at 98 proposals from local and state agencies and non-profits. It then whittled down the proposals to 17 grants, nine of which were awarded to CREATES.

At tomorrow’s meeting, the Board of Estimates is set to approve acceptance of the money, which amounts to the biggest chunk of change for energy-related projects since President Barack Obama signed the Stimulus Act in 2009.

Equally impressive, the city received nearly every penny it requested from the PSC. Mayor Rawlings-Blake made the city’s case directly at a commission hearing last year.

So what is the city getting?

According to the PSC and the mayor’s office, a coordinated effort to reduce homeowner energy bills, such as converting oil heating systems to less expensive natural gas. There will also be energy saving tips to be distributed to churches, schools, community associations and households.

Other CREATES programs will offer 15,000 programmable thermostats to households to cut back on electric consumption, “more focused assistance and case management” for residents with unpaid utility bills, white roofing and new trees in “urban heat islands” and energy retrofit loans for small businesses.

The commission also granted funds to two private groups in the city.

Comprehensive Housing Assistance, Inc. (CHAI), which will receive $2 million for its no-interest loan fund for energy upgrades and renovations in the Northwest neighborhoods of Fallstaff, Cross Country, Cheswolde and Mt. Washington.

The Fuel Fund of Maryland, a group started by the late City Councilwoman Victorine Q. Adams, will get nearly $15 million to create an endowment and give more BGE customers bill assistance.

Less Rate Relief to Customers

When the Exelon-Constellation merger was under discussion by the PSC, merger critics called for rate relief, specifically a $200 credit for each residential customer.

Gov. Martin O’Malley said the PSC should pursue a more long-term outlook by pushing for more energy conservation and educational giveback.

The negotiations yielded an agreement for a $100 credit to BGE residential customers and the establishment of the $113 million Customer Investment Fund to underwrite programs for low-income residents.

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