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Posted at 5:08 PM ET, 02/24/2011

Md. regulator on hot seat over Pepco outages

By Aaron C. Davis

Maryland's top electricity regulator on Thursday drew fire from state lawmakers who charged that the state's Public Service Commission had been "absent" for years in evaluating the performance of Pepco and other electric companies.

Lawmakers said the state's regulator had failed to adequately hold the utility company accountable for lengthy power outages even as the company had cut back on maintenance and increased investor dividends.

"I'm concerned with where the PSC is and where they have been for the last several years," said Del. Benjamin F. Kramer (D-Montgomery), in a hearing in Annapolis on a bill to impose reliability standards on Pepco and other Maryland utilities. Nearly a dozen bills stemming from lengthy Pepco power outages over the last year are pending in the Maryland General Assembly.

"Quite frankly, what signals do you all need to have fully well understood that Pepco's performance has been abysmal?" said Kramer, a former car wash owner. "I wash cars for a living and I know Pepco's reliability is unacceptable ... You all are the experts. How is it that it's been lost on our friends on the PSC all these years and nothing has been done about it?"

"Respectfully, I'm going to have to take issue with the fact that it has been 'lost on us,'" responded PSC Chairman Douglas R. M. Nazarian.

Nazarian was testifying voluntarily in favor of a bill (HB391) drafted by Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) and backed by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), that would direct the PSC to develop reliability standards for utility companies and to issue fines that would be credited back to affected ratepayers when electricity companies fail.

But Nazarian ended up on the defensive for most of the hearing.

"None of the five PSC commissioners live in the Pepco service area, is that true?" asked Del. Tom Hucker (D-Montgomery),

"Yes, that's true," Nazarian said.

"Well, now that you know so many of us with first-hand experience with this issue, I hope you'll stay in touch," Hucker said. He then added another question: Has the PSC ever studied the economic effect of lost power outages.

"No," Nazarian said.

Nazarian, a 2008 O'Malley appointee, said the PSC had studied the state's utilities' performances year-over-year "relative to themselves," but had never attempted to compare them to others across the country. He argued that "there is no such thing as a uniform, or national objective measure of utility reliability."

Still, Nazarian said the PSC had come to the conclusion that hardened standards are needed.

"We've discovered over the last year that it's not good enough to have a general standard that you have to [restore power] as fast as possible. We've decided there have to be concrete objectives to which utility companies are held accountable."

Feldman, the lead sponsor of the bill, equated electricity reliability in Montgomery County to a third-world country.

Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery) said his family members in Mumbai, India have more consistent electric power.

Several lawmakers also sparred with Nazarian over whether the PSC could be trusted to implement the bill in a way to increase utilities' reliability.

How big a fine would the PSC levy against an underperforming utility, asked Kramer. What would be "big enough to bring about significant change?"

"I'm going to dodge that question," Nazarian said.

"One of the reasons why we haven't so far is that ... we don't have anything to measure them against, this is why we had trouble. ... We have to have something to measure utilities against before I can tell you what it is they have or haven't done."

Footnotes:

-- Click here to view and vote for the Pepco bills you would like Maryland lawmakers to approve.

-- A coalition has been formed to "organize citizens to pass meaningful regulation of electricity providers." Their Web site is www.PowerMD.org.

By Aaron C. Davis  | February 24, 2011; 5:08 PM ET
Categories:  Aaron C. Davis  
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Comments

Maryland's short-sighted deregulation of electricity, helped along by a compliant legislature, didn't do consumers any favors. Now that the legislature sees a problem, it's way too late.

Posted by: artbrodsky | February 24, 2011 8:45 PM | Report abuse

Nazarian has obviously been in bed with the PEPCO crooks. The Public Service Commission couldnt see that dividends and bonuses were going up while maintenance expenditures by the utility were going down??? I think that is called incompetence ... or willful ignorance, which is being in bed with the utility you are supposed to be regulating.

One delegate has proposed in legistation to dump PEPCO as MoCo's service provider. And while we are at it, we apparently need to appoint new board members to the PSC that aren't doing sweetheart deals for PEPCO. Nazarian dodged the question on what would be a sufficient fine to wake up PEPCO. How about "until it hurts enough to get some acton." But no...he doesnt want to upset his corporate masters.

Get rid of PEPCO and get new members on the PSC. MoCo residents have had ENOUGH and its time for real action on this.

Posted by: Poleman | February 25, 2011 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Nazarian has obviously been in bed with the PEPCO crooks. The Public Service Commission couldnt see that dividends and bonuses were going up while maintenance expenditures by the utility were going down??? I think that is called incompetence ... or willful ignorance, which is being in bed with the utility you are supposed to be regulating.

One delegate has proposed in legistation to dump PEPCO as MoCo's service provider. And while we are at it, we apparently need to appoint new board members to the PSC that aren't doing sweetheart deals for PEPCO. Nazarian dodged the question on what would be a sufficient fine to wake up PEPCO. How about "until it hurts enough to get some acton." But no...he doesnt want to upset his corporate masters.

Get rid of PEPCO and get new members on the PSC. MoCo residents have had ENOUGH and its time for real action on this.

Posted by: Poleman | February 25, 2011 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Nazarian has obviously been in bed with the PEPCO crooks. The Public Service Commission couldnt see that dividends and bonuses were going up while maintenance expenditures by the utility were going down??? I think that is called incompetence ... or willful ignorance, which is being in bed with the utility you are supposed to be regulating.

One delegate has proposed in legistation to dump PEPCO as MoCo's service provider. And while we are at it, we apparently need to appoint new board members to the PSC that aren't doing sweetheart deals for PEPCO. Nazarian dodged the question on what would be a sufficient fine to wake up PEPCO. How about "until it hurts enough to get some acton." But no...he doesnt want to upset his corporate masters.

Get rid of PEPCO and get new members on the PSC. MoCo residents have had ENOUGH and its time for real action on this.

Posted by: Poleman | February 25, 2011 9:14 AM | Report abuse

Nazarian needs to go. And so does Pepco. Bill Frick is the only DEMOCRAT legislator we have in Maryland who must NOT have gotten kickbacks and campaign donations from Pepco Holdings.
Of course Steny Hoyer has been the most prolific recipient, which is why we hear NOTHING from him. No doubt..

Apparently he has nothing to lose, FINANCIALLY, facing these scufflaws with the TRUTH.

Posted by: CountytaxpayingCHNII | February 26, 2011 3:34 PM | Report abuse

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