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Posted at 7:00 AM ET, 02/24/2011

How would you make Pepco better?

By Aaron C. Davis

Pepco.jpgIt's no secret that Pepco customers around Washington are fed up with power outages -- and for good reason. A Washington Post analysis last year found that in reliability studies, "the company ranks near the bottom in keeping the power on and bringing it back once it goes out."

So, if you were a lawmaker, how would you make Pepco better? Pepco Chairman Joseph Rigby told Maryland lawmakers recently that he would forgo as much as $900,000 in compensation and try to speed up long-term plans to improve reliability. But that hasn't stopped a slew of Montgomery County state lawmakers from introducing legislation that amounts to saying "that's not good enough."

One would try to toss Rigby and the rest of Pepco's corporate bigwigs out on street. Another would seek to put the company out of business altogether and replace it with another utility.

feldman.jpgLawmakers in Annapolis on Thursday will begin hearing the first of nearly a dozen bills stemming from Pepco's power outages. The lead proposal, (HB391) drafted by Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) and backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), would direct state regulators to develop reliability standards for utility companies. Regulators currently have the ability to fine utilities, but the legislation would direct the payments back to affected customers.

Del. Dereck E. Davis (D-Prince George's), the committee chairman, said his committee would focus on approving reliability standards over more severe proposals.

But if you were a state lawmaker, what efforts would you support? Here, in their words, are lawmakers' proposals and why they think the legislation would help:

Abandonment and Transfer
frick.jpg"I have sponsored a bill (HB1110) that would call on the PSC to evaluate whether Pepco should be deemed to have abandoned its franchise due to poor service reliability. If passed, the legislation would likely lead to Pepco being put out of business and replaced with a new provider. Many Pepco customers endured three extended outages in less than a year during extreme weather events, in addition to myriad outages in good weather for no apparent reason. When we look at these outages, it is clear that Pepco is making the same mistakes again and again -- failing to provide adequate staffing, failing to seek assistance in a timely manner, and failing to communicate accurate information with customers. I have lost all faith in Pepco to improve its service. It's time for a change. My bill would let the PSC do for all Pepco customers what they all would like to do for themselves: take their business elsewhere."
-- Del. C. William (Bill) Frick (D-Montgomery)

Service Quality and Reliability Standards
frosh.jpg"My bill, (SB341) which is similar in approach to the Governor's bill, is designed to enhance the reliability of Pepco and other utilities. It requires the PSC to establish reliability standards, and it directs the PSC to penalize utilities that fail to meet those standards. The penalties cannot be passed on to ratepayers. Along with many of my constituents, my family has suffered many days of power outages in the past year. As the Post has documented definitively, the losses of power are not explained merely by bad weather. Pepco has failed to meet any reasonable standard of reliability, and strong measures seem necessary to change the conduct of the company."
-- Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Montgomery)

Decoupling Revenues and Sales
hucker.jpg"My bill (1lr2638) bars the PSC from allowing a utility to charge higher rates during extended outages, which they are currently allowed to do through the bill stabilization adjustment, which the PSC authorized to allow utilities to charge higher rates when customers use less energy. This problem was exposed by Washington Post reporters Joe Stephens and Mary Pat Flaherty in their Feb. 2 article. It's my understanding that Pepco is not allowed to make bill stabilization adjustments in DC, but they are allowed to do so in Maryland. Rather than writing a bill that describes Pepco by name, my bill would affect only any utility that performs within the bottom quartile of utility reliability established by the IEEE-SA. Pepco falls into that category. The bill would establish a fund to credit ratepayers' bills."
(Hucker is also drafting a bill to let the state replace Pepco's leadership)
--Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery)

Penalties and Ratepayer Compensation
raskin.jpg"SB804 directs the Public Service Commission 1) to establish a procedure under which rate payers can apply to be compensated for damages incurred as a result of an extended power outage. Damages would include, but are not limited to: compensation for spoiled, contaminated or wasted food; temporary travel arrangements for a hotel stay; and any other emergency measures taken by a rate payer because of an extended outage. 2) to impose monetary penalties on an electric company that is determined to have responded inadequately to an extended disruption in service; and 3) provides that any reimbursements, fines or other penalties that electric companies incur from the PSC may not be passed on to ratepayers and must be taken from company profits. This legislation responds to PEPCO's dramatically inadequate response to the extended power outages during weather-related events and its unwillingness to reimburse customers for actual damages. This bill is designed to get PEPCO to make sweeping improvements to the infrastructure and to protect customers by assuring their compensation in the event of PEPCO's negligence."
-- Sen. Jamin B. (Jamie) Raskin (D-Montgomery)

Moving Overhead Utility Lines Underground
arora.jpg "Pepco has said the cost of burying wires is prohibitively expensive, and I would like to see if we can bring down the costs (and spur action). HB1234 would create a task force to identify opportunities and initiate planning for selective undergrounding of utility wires through inter-utility and inter-agency cooperation (e.g. when WSSC or State Highway Admin are planning to excavate in a certain area near a power substation with overhead wires). The basic idea is to maximize Pepco's ability to underground wires in problem areas (e.g. frequently unreliability, proximity to substations) by dramatically reducing costs. Previous studies have called for precisely this sort of collaborative planning in order to realize cost savings and increased reliability."
-- Del. Sam Arora (D-Montgomery County)

What do you think of these proposals? Rank them below.

By Aaron C. Davis  | February 24, 2011; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis  
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I like Bill Frick's idea the best:
"I have lost all faith in Pepco to improve its service. It's time for a change. My bill would let the PSC do for all Pepco customers what they all would like to do for themselves: take their business elsewhere."

Absolutely!!! Theyve been given plenty of opportunties over the years to improve their dreadful service (bottom quarter of US utilities in reliabilty -- give me a break). Now they are making noises about being serious about improving service this time around. TOO LATE!!!

It's time for Montgomery country electricity customers to take their business elsewhere and give PEPCO the boot.

Posted by: Poleman | February 24, 2011 3:24 PM | Report abuse

I support Bill Frick's BILL HB1110. In fact, I don't believe there can be any other solution to these scufflaws. They are clearly in a corrupt relationship with some of the legislators in our STATE, a questionable practice, so they need to go, NOW. Let's all say goodbye.

Posted by: CountytaxpayingCHNII | February 25, 2011 7:07 PM | Report abuse

Thank you, Bill Frick for doing your job and working for your constituents.

Posted by: jburnetti | February 25, 2011 10:24 PM | Report abuse

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