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Maryland investigating Pepco power outages

The Maryland commission that regulates utilities has launched an investigation into Pepco, the Washington area's largest electricity provider, following the third major storm-related power outage in as many weeks.

The Maryland Public Service Commission said the loss of power to nearly a half million people since July 25 has raised questions about "the reliability ... and the quality of distribution service Pepco is providing its customers." The commission, which is appointed by the governor, has asked Pepco's chief operating officer and other senior company officials to attend a hearing in Baltimore on Tuesday.

The move follows letters to the commission by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) urging the board to investigate. O'Malley, who is running for re-election, wrote after Thursday's storm that "power stays on more consistently in many developing nations than it does now in the communities surrounding our nation's capital."

On Friday, O'Malley reiterated his criticism in a radio interview with WAMU's Kojo Nnamdi, saying that while "there's no denying the pictures, the facts, that we've been hit - it's been like Oklahoma rather than Montgomery and Prince George's County these last few weeks ... I refuse to believe that it is all weather related."

"Is Pepco making the investments necessary to maintain its infrastructure and these substations?" O'Malley asked.

Pepco spokesman David Morehead said the company would cooperate with the investigation and "looked forward to the hearing."

"Certainly, the weather has been by far the largest factor in all of this," Morehead said. "It's been unbelievable, really, we've had three major storms in three weeks." As of Friday afternoon, Morehead said Pepco was still working to restore power to over 25,000 in the Washington area, down from over 110,000 on Thursday.

In its letter to Pepco announcing the investigation, the commission said that because of the frequency, number and duration of outages, as well as "the apparent breakdown of adequate communication between the company and its customers during these outage events, the Commission finds it necessary to conduct an immediate investigation."

By Aaron C. Davis  |  August 13, 2010; 2:43 PM ET
 
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Comments

Pepco isn't the only utility that's had storm-related problems. Consider Verizon. Last month we were without our landline for three days. This time, we're into day 2 and counting. Granted, being without power is the worst of the outages, but if you're going to look at such things after every storm, why not be more comprehensive? A paragraph or two on phone lines, cable, etc., would offer a more complete report of what's happening in the area.

Posted by: gmac1939 | August 13, 2010 3:46 PM | Report abuse

The bigger question is how many crews does Pepco keep on staff these days? Do they have less crews available than years ago to keep costs down? Also, as Pepco has changed its business model post deregulation from a generator of power to a purely transmission services company have they put less focus on reliability and maintenance? If I had to make a bet, they have and nobody has been keeping an eye on that including the Public Service Commission which seems to be in a more reactive rather than proactive mode these days. In other words, sure they have a problem, but that's only because there are a lot of angry voters with no air conditioning and this is an election year.

Posted by: da55 | August 13, 2010 4:02 PM | Report abuse

Maryland does not want you angry at Maryland, they want you angry at PEPCO.

They want you to hold a utility company responsible for mother nature. Otherwise you will have to look at Maryland tree cutting policies imposed on PEPCO. Otherwise, you will have to look at Maryland regulations that are imposed on PEPCO.

PEPCO is going to be scapegoated to keep voter anger focused away from incumbents and Democrats.

Large mature trees and overhead power lines do not mix!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
How stupid does Maryland think we are? Either we go underground or we have power outages! Pick one!.

Public service commission is going to look at PEPCO's reliability. Gee, isn't it funny that power only goes out when storms happen?

This is a straw man argument in an election year when Democrats are going to get slammed at all levels. Even in the deep blue state of Maryland.

Posted by: thelaw1 | August 13, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

Maryland caps rates, PEPCO can't afford to bury lines. Montgomery County restricts tree cutting, PEPCO can't protect unburied lines. Wind blows, power goes.

Posted by: staticvars | August 13, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

@thelaw1: Your points would be a lot more solid if other utilities in the area had even a quarter of the trouble Pepco's been having lately. You can discount Dominion if you really think Virginia is all that different from Maryland, but BG&E manages to keep more lights on and get the ones that do go out back on faster in their Tree City communities than Pepco - every. single. time. Other utilities abide by the same regulations as Pepco and their customers don't have frequent multi-day outages. Back to the drawing board.

Posted by: walkleftstandright | August 13, 2010 4:39 PM | Report abuse

I've had my problems with Pepco - but I will say that getting the power back within 12 hours of losing it was a pleasant surprise.

Posted by: mikeintheusa | August 13, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

In response to "thelaw1"'s ridiculous attempt to partisanize this issue, it should be remembered that PEPCO's response to Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and some violent storms that proceeded it, was widely and rightly criticized as slow and disorganized. And that was when Bob Ehrlich was governor (and the GOP completely controlled the federal government for good measure.) Not to mention that rates got jacked up by Ehrlich and his PSC without a corresponding improvement in service.

Of course the poor response to Isabel wasn't Ehrlich's fault, and this isn't O'Malley's. Take the partisan garbage to Red State or "Free" Republic.

Posted by: mkarns | August 13, 2010 5:15 PM | Report abuse

In response to "thelaw1"'s ridiculous attempt to partisanize this issue, it should be remembered that PEPCO's response to Hurricane Isabel in 2003, and some violent storms that proceeded it, was widely and rightly criticized as slow and disorganized. And that was when Bob Ehrlich was governor (and the GOP completely controlled the federal government for good measure.) Not to mention that rates got jacked up by Ehrlich and his PSC without a corresponding improvement in service.

Of course the poor response to Isabel wasn't Ehrlich's fault, and this isn't O'Malley's. Take the partisan garbage to Red State or "Free" Republic.

Posted by: mkarns | August 13, 2010 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Underground wires are not always the panacea everyone thinks.

Example, Hurricane Isabel, 2003. My less-than-10-year-old development (BGE area) with underground wires all around was without power for 32 hours. The 40-year-old development that abutted us had nothing but overhead lines. They never lost power.

Posted by: ceebee2 | August 13, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

This is nakedly political. Four years ago, O'Malley -- without a legal leg to stand on -- went after BGE. Attacking utilities is never unpopular. He's nothing to use against BGE this time out, so now PEPCO is the utility victim du jour.

Tommy Carcetti wasn't THIS corrupt.

Posted by: gbooksdc | August 13, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

@walkleftstandright I disagree in regards to BGE, I live in Northern AA county (where our lines are overhead). Outages in my area have gotten more frequent and they last longer. I have had to purchase a generator because most outages are lasting more than a day and I don't want food in my fridge/freezer to spoil.

Posted by: crobgauth | August 13, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

People are complaining about the length of time it takes PEPCO to fix problems. The main reason is that PEPCO does not have nearly enough linemen to rapidly respond to large outages. That is the reason PEPCO has aggreements with other utilities to provide mutual aid to each other. The two problems with this are 1) it takes time for these other utilities to get to the Washington area and 2) if there are power outages in the other utilities areas they have to restore service there BEFORE they can aid PEPCO.

Posted by: Jimof1913 | August 13, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

"The main reason is that PEPCO does not have nearly enough linemen to rapidly respond to large outages"

OF course they don't, and they won't unless there is some dramatic change.

Everyone freaks over a $2/month rate increase, and then moans when the power is out for a couple hours or days.

Posted by: BEEPEE | August 13, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

"The main reason is that PEPCO does not have nearly enough linemen to rapidly respond to large outages"

OF course they don't, and they won't unless there is some dramatic change.

Everyone freaks over a $2/month rate increase, and then moans when the power is out for a couple hours or days.

Posted by: BEEPEE | August 13, 2010 6:14 PM | Report abuse

Pepco can not keep the power on at my house on sunny clear days. As soon as I see a cloud I expect to lose power. Not only is the service bad the price is 2 to 3 times more than it costs in VA. Of course about 10% of that is the Montgomery county taxes.

Posted by: HockeyMike351 | August 13, 2010 6:34 PM | Report abuse

Guess O'Malley needs the votes of Pepco clients. MD rules/guidelines for utility repair are weak at the least. What would take Verizon in NJ to repair within 24 hours has taken 9-15 days in MD.

But then, the appliance rebate from the electric utility and MD (via Fed $) hasn't yet appeared in 15 weeks, though promised in 6-8.

Posted by: dongrahamwp | August 13, 2010 7:22 PM | Report abuse

Pepco is scamming Montgomery County, big time.

We have a high population density, with the oldest contemporary "suburban" communities in the country. This means there is an old-growth, tall tree canopy and above-ground wires.

Yet Pepco, in all the 60-plus years Montgomery County's suburbs have been here, has not upgraded its infrastructure to be a more modern below-ground system. Since Pepco has invested virtually nothing into this ancient infrastructure for decades, why don't we have the cheapest electricity in the country????

I'm tired of hearing the arguments that it would take too much money to bury the power lines. If it were that expensive, how could new communities survive being wired? There's a high population density in Montgomery County, and there is certainly enough in account dollars to pay for digging trenches and laying cable, some 100 to 60 years after the above-ground system was first run.

Pepco sucks. If we can't get upgraded to a contemporary electrical system, and I'm going to continue to lose hundreds and thousands of dollars in losses as a consumer because of their crappy system, I'll go off grid.

Posted by: AsperGirl | August 13, 2010 9:02 PM | Report abuse

All of this is well and good, however, why haven't any of the whining pols in Md. subpoenas Mother Nature to explain how she messed up our lives? After all, when the sky is clear, winds calm, temps mild, nobody complains about PEPCos reliability. But old, (I mean experience) Mother Nature gets cranky and throws some severe storms at the heart of PEPCos service area, then the mere mortals on this rock do complain!
God help us if we can't get on the social networks one day or so!

Posted by: VikingRider | August 13, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

I spent over 20 years living in the Midwest, and we used to get storms like the one on Wednesday morning at least two or three times a month in the summer. Rarely a storm like that would knock-out electricity and on the rare occasions it would go out it would only be for a few hours. I just don't understand how that storm could produce such a widespread outage and how slow the repair process is. I don't know whose is at fault,PEPCO, the county, the state, but someone needs to figure it out and fix it.

Posted by: bethb4 | August 13, 2010 9:10 PM | Report abuse

We all know what will happen. Pepco will say they need a rate increase to provide the level of service we expect. This is the same blackmail tactic they used to get the district to grant a rate increase. Pepco gives us all kinds of ways to save on our bills and when we do this they lose money and then ask for a rate increase. Pepso will say that the slow economy is hurting their profits so they need more of OUR money to upgrage the infrastructure. This is BS.

Posted by: gsgood1 | August 13, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

In the news clips, it is clear that fallen trees are the main cause of downed power lines during rain or ice storms. Unless we bury the lines or cut down the road side tress, power outage will continue to be a problem. Brown outs will also occur more frequently as demand for electricity continues to increase. PEPCO cannot be blamed for all the problems that Mother Nature brings us and for the poor planning by the city and state. The governor and mayors need to stop politicizing the issue. Instead, they should plan ahead. If burying the power line is not an option due to cost, then we need to cut down the road side trees*. The cost of tree cutting should be borne by the owner of the tree. The state also need to consider passing a law forbidding the planting of trees that can grown to >25 ft near utility lines.

*Although tree pruning sounds more eco friendly, some of the pruned trees look so ugly, with its deep and wide Y-cut down the center, that they should really be cut down anyway.

Posted by: davidlu54 | August 13, 2010 9:44 PM | Report abuse

"It's been unbelievable, really, we've had three major storms in three weeks."
===========================================
Three thunderstorms. What a bunch of b******.

We have NOVEC in Prince William County and have lost power only ONCE in five years with the back to back blizzards.

But we have learned to accept trees being cut down near our power lines.

Tree huggers in MoCo can't have it both ways. Either they hug their trees and stop their whining when they come down on their power lines -- or they allow clearing as we have done in VA.

Posted by: checkered1 | August 13, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

PEPCO has a monopoly on electricty in its market. It's not like we can just unplug and go buy our electricity somewhere else. With the privilege of that monopoly, they should be tightly regulated. Their rates should be capped and they should be required to maintain their infrastructure,
But nooooo, the genuises of the market said "deregulate and everything will be better." Everything is not better. Everything sucks. Service is horrible. There are constant outages and the rates are un-freaking-believable. Our bill for a two bedroom apartment in July was $280--and we were without power for four days. A neighbor with a house up the street got her bill yesterday and it was $800. That is obscene. Someone got rich when PEPCO was deregulated and all of the rest of us got a big hairy shaft. Where was the PSC then? Where was the Post?
On this issue alone I am voting against every incumbent politican who represents me this fall--I don't care who is challenging them.

Posted by: woody2471 | August 14, 2010 12:23 AM | Report abuse

"If it were that expensive, how could new communities survive being wired?"

You are kidding, right?

Why do you think the interior of a new house is wired and piped before the drywall is put up? Do you think it would be cheaper to hang the drywall, then tear it out to wire the house and do the plumbing?

Most of those clamoring for underground wiring would be the same ones up in arms when Pepco rolls the Ditch-Witch in and starts trenching across their lawns.

Of course they would also be demanding that Pepco pay to replace trees and shrubs on their property.

Posted by: BEEPEE | August 14, 2010 1:59 AM | Report abuse

Wonder what pol would care about PEPCO if this weren't an election year? Never let a crisis go to waste...
If they really want to investigate what happened, why not subpoena Nother Nature? After all she was the one who sent those nasty storms and messed up our lives for a couple of days. But as I recall, no one has been able to drag Mother Nature to a hearing room.

Posted by: VikingRider | August 14, 2010 8:37 AM | Report abuse

Putting the politics aside for a moment, there are some greater service issues with Pepco. For example, the neighborhood that was featured in the Post routinely loses power, even on sunny days (power went out twice last Saturday). It has been this way for the last 10 years, and Pepco can't use the excuse of overdevelopment as there hasn't been any in that neighborhood except for a few small townhomes. That has nothing to do with crew shortages, storms, etc.

As to O'Malley, as others mentioned, would we even be hearing from him if it wasn't an election year?

Posted by: scatem | August 14, 2010 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Maryland caps rates, PEPCO can't afford to bury lines. Montgomery County restricts tree cutting, PEPCO can't protect unburied lines. Wind blows, power goes.

Posted by: staticvars
++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++=

To the people here defending the power companies:

Electric rates in Maryland have increased over 70% since 2004.

So your point is....

Posted by: ceefer66 | August 14, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

If the HOA's, neighborhood associations, politicans and local governments trimmed the trees the problems would be minimal. DONT BE AFRAID TO TRIM THE TREES IKE LEGGETT!

It is not Pepco's fault you don't trim.

Posted by: mntbound | August 15, 2010 4:43 AM | Report abuse

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