Mayor Brandon Scott and Baltimore Gas and Electric have reached an agreement about access to the city-owned conduit, a 741-mile underground network of wires that power street lights, traffic signals and phone and internet services.
Under the terms of a new agreement, Baltimore would stop directly charging BGE access fees in exchange for paying for $134 million in system improvements during a four-year period between 2023 and 2027. The company would also pay an annual occupancy fee of $1.5 million.
The deal will not be official until approved by the city spending board on Feb. 15, where the mayor and his appointees comprise a majority.
The agreement represents a slight financial gain for the city: A draft from mid-January reviewed by The Baltimore Banner called for BGE to pay up to $124 million in system improvements during the same four-year period.
“This is a sensible agreement that gives the city an opportunity to demonstrate good stewardship over this valued and vital asset,” Scott said in a statement.
The conduit — and who has access to it — has made headlines since the fall, when the Scott administration pursued a contract with a consultancy firm to evaluate the future of the conduit weeks before Baltimoreans would vote on a charter amendment that would ban the sale of the network. Residents overwhelmingly passed the measure.
BGE uses about 75% of the conduit, which is also used by Verizon, Comcast and others. The city currently charges BGE fees of $2.20 per foot for use of the system, a rate approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission, which translates to payments of about $30 million in fees a year.
Acting City Solicitor Ebony Thompson said the new arrangement will lead to an increased investment into the conduit and a decrease in administrative costs and liability for Baltimore while “allowing the city to maintain 100% ownership of the conduit.”
Council President Nick Mosby has criticized Scott’s interest in giving a private institution say over the conduit’s repairs and priorities, noting that the company is not obliged to follow the same equity requirements as official city projects.
In a statement, Mosby said there was a lack of transparency from the administration and that his office has not been provided with “any details to help us fully understand why this needs to happen at this time and in this manner.”
He will hold a City Council hearing into the deal on Thursday evening.
“It is our hope that we can have an open and productive dialogue with the administration, allowing us to ultimately provide the citizens of Baltimore with a complete picture of this process and how this move will benefit our city now and in the years to come,” Mosby said.