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Posted at 12:05 PM ET, 02/ 1/2011

Council member wants Pepco to foot the bill for customers' lodging during outages

By Tim Craig

A D.C. Council member has introduced a bill that would require Pepco and other utility companies to pay city residents' hotel or motel bills should the lights go out in very cold or hot weather.

Under the proposal by Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), which was co-sponsored by eight council members, Pepco would have to pay "reasonable hotel costs" to accommodate a resident if the power goes out when its less than 32 degrees in the winter or higher than 95 degrees in the summer.

Bowser conceded her proposal will likely face significant opposition from Pepco and other utility companies, but said its time the city sends the message that recent prolonged outages are not acceptable.

When the power goes out, Bowser argued, many residents are forced to flee their homes for extended periods of time for their own healthy and safety. Both air conditioners and many heaters need electricity to operate, and Bowser said extreme heat or cold can be life-threatening for senior citizens.

"Whether it's a summer storm or a winter storm, the lack of electricity for a sustained period of time is leading to potentially dangerous results for our residents," Bowser said. "Some residents seek alternative shelter, but many don't cause they don't afford to do so, due to prohibitive costs."

Bowser, who represents neighborhoods in the north-central part of the city, said some of her constituents suffered multiple extended power outages over the past year, including last winter's back-to-back blizzards, after a big thunderstorm in late July, and again following a heavy wet snowfall last week.

A Pepco spokesman said company officials would have to review the legislation before they could comment on it.

In another piece of legislation related to the weather, D.C. Council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) approved a bill calling on the mayor to study whether the city should empower Advisory Neighborhoods Commissioners to take a role in emergency response.

Thomas said last week's snowstorm proved the city needs more first-responders who can step up during severe storms. He is proposing that ANC commissioners receive training and be given emergency kits so they can help police and firefighters respond to incidents such as downed power lines or trees.

"In my neighborhood, there were power lines hanging across the street last week and police officers were called to come and secure that, but as you know with the magnitude of that snowstorm, it was very difficult to get them there," Thomas said.

If the Gray administration signs off on the plan, ANC commissioners would have access to flares and police tape to rope off intersections or close roads until additional city resources could be deployed.

By Tim Craig  | February 1, 2011; 12:05 PM ET
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Bowser's idea is stupid. Actually both ideas are.

Posted by: echenna | February 1, 2011 7:38 PM | Report abuse

I think Bowser's bill holds some weight, even if it's only a symbolic gesture that Pepco needs to get its act together.

During last week's storm, I was without power for 16 hours. Because my entire home runs on electricity, that meant 16 hours with no heat, no hot water, no cooking appliances... nothing!! And with the temperatures below freezing outside, that's no walk in the park!

Some had to endure outages longer than that. It's unacceptable and it's about time that Pepco is held accountable.

Posted by: MoreisMore | February 1, 2011 8:20 PM | Report abuse

Several years ago after a 2 day summer power outage I submitted a bill for groceries that perished in the refrigerator and was fairly compensated by Pepco.

Posted by: SCOTTSCHMIDTT | February 1, 2011 8:31 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for sponsoring the bill Muriel Bowser. I live in Crestwood was out of power for 4 days when the Pepco recorder said my power was on. Pepco has been problems for years especially when my mother is on a oxygen tank, how we panic during winter/summer months. I too run off electricity only. I had a heavyup done in 2006 and Pepco still haven't wired the power to the cable box for my circuit breaker. Pepco needs to get there act together. They will just increase our rates to pay the claim! Oh, give a flat fee for hotel cost or prorate mortgage cost per day, willing to pay the difference, will not sleep in those nasty hotels. Find a solution soon!

Posted by: drfields | February 1, 2011 11:37 PM | Report abuse

I don't agree. This is one of those things and if Pepco is egregious in its storm reaction (which despite pained howls I don't see), let it be considered next time they pay a rate increase. it is a burden which each of us must bare, we don't get to check into the Four Seasons. It would certainly be abused, and the customer will wind up paying the bill. No. Your home insurance should cover it.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | February 3, 2011 8:57 AM | Report abuse

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