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Posted at 9:35 AM ET, 08/13/2010

Hearing to be held on Pepco's reliability

By Washington Post editors

Maryland's Public Service Commission has called a hearing into the reliability of Pepco, a utility that has been criticized in recent weeks over electrical power outages that have lasted for days after storms.

In an order made public late Thursday, the commission ordered Pepco officials to appear at the hearing, set for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Baltimore.

The order says the hearing is to get answers from Pepco about its performance during and after severe weather.

Late Thursday, 60,000 Pepco customers were without power after a thunderstorm passed through the area in the morning.

By 9:30 a.m. Friday, Pepco officials said about 37,600 customers remained without power. An estimated 32,300 of those customers were in Montgomery County, about 1,200 were in Prince George's County, and just under 4,000 were in the District.

The PSC also says it will examine the utility's storm preparedness.

Pepco serves customers in Washington and Prince George's and Montgomery counties.

-- Staff and wire reports

By Washington Post editors  | August 13, 2010; 9:35 AM ET
Categories:  DC, Maryland  
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Comments

Did you see the size of those fallen trees submitted by users? Hard to blame them when storms topple majestic trees like that. It costs thousands of dollars to remove trees like that and probably more to dig underground lines.

Posted by: jercha | August 13, 2010 10:04 AM | Report abuse

It's not the size of the trees it is PEPCO's inability to isolate the outage to the neighborhood where the tree fell. Why does every tree falling cascade into outages for the whole county? During the July outage there were no trees down in my subdivision but we didn't have power for 3 days.

Posted by: ehardwick | August 13, 2010 10:15 AM | Report abuse

After surviving two "Pepcopalypses", given the magnitude of the storms, I think that the crews restoring power have done a great job. What drives me insane are two things:

1) After the July 25 storm that clearly caught PEPCO management with its pants down, they were out "assessing" the damage for nearly 36 hours before large numbers started getting their power back. It's not rocket science - you should know where your lines are, and a single aerial survey would knock out 90% of that "assessing" in a couple of hours.

2) Their PR teams, save the lonely twitter guy, should all be sent back for re-training, to put it mildly. The only info they've given in the last two storms was "it's a multi-day event" and "this storm was really bad." That doesn't cut it. The public is put at ease by actual information. "We have 150 crews in MoCo and 90 in the District" or "We hope that 50% of folks will have power back tonight, another 30% tomorrow, but that may change." or "Our worst damage is in Gaithersburg and White Oak, but folks in Wheaton should have power back sooner." Stop with the lawyerly "multi-day event" crap. That sounds like WMATA-speak.

Lastly, PEPCO has refused to cooperate with other agencies. I have multiple friends in county and federal government that echo the same story of "We approached PEPCO to meet and set up a plan for ____", and they heard crickets in return. Not acceptable.

At the very least PEPCO upper management needs to go, and if the election year fairies want to smile on us suffering Marylanders, maybe the PSC will revoke their operating license and give it over to BG&E or Dominion, who seem to have this whole "power" thing under control.

Posted by: vtavgjoe | August 13, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Pepco's vice president recently expressed disappointment that storms have damaged newly acquired infrastructure. New infrastructure? The above-ground poles are 100-year-old technology! When poles and trees combine in storms, damage cannot be avoided! Pepco should have invested in burying lines a long time ago!

Posted by: MandPHellyer | August 13, 2010 10:32 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Ehardwick...Pepco needs to be proactive instead of always being reactive to storm situations. They are doing nothing within their infrastructure in terms of being prepared before a major storm takes out the entire region. Enough of their excuses!

Posted by: cmhillmm | August 13, 2010 10:43 AM | Report abuse

I totally agree with vtavgjoe. Customers want solid answers/information. We know the storm was bad and we know power isn't going to be restored in one day, stop telling us what we already know. We want to know what you're (PEPCO) is doing to remedy the situation. We'll see what comes out of this meeting on Tuesday.

Posted by: LatitiaP | August 13, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I emailed my local Montgomery rep, but I'll mentioned that many Federal government organizations are located in both Mont County and in the state of MD.
Locally for our county, I think they should get the feds to help pay for burying the power lines.
It will cost alot, but pepco clearly has an innefficient system of delivering power

Posted by: jojopuppyfish | August 13, 2010 10:53 AM | Report abuse

So much for 'deregulation' and 'competiton' of the power companies in the 'free market'.The power companies are the new Robber-Barons of the everyday citizen.Put the lines underground. Make the utility companies trim the trees until the lines in an area are all underground.Make the power companies obtain their energy from renewable sources. That will put lots of folks back to work!!

Posted by: 10bestfan | August 13, 2010 10:55 AM | Report abuse

Bury the lines! On the Virginia side, I lived in McLean for 6 years with lines on poles, and had 5 multi-day outages. I moved to Herndon with all buried power and have had zero outages in 6 years.

Posted by: staticvars | August 13, 2010 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Pepco is the least reliable electrical service I have ever had. I experienced more power outages in the year I have lived in Rockville than I have in my entire life combined. This problem has been going long before the storms. I frequently lose power when it is bright and sunny out. As soon as I see clouds I expect the power to go out.

The cost is also outrageous. My parents who have a much larger house pay about 1/3 of what I pay in MD. The taxes and charge just for transmission is greater than their entire bill. Granted some of that is the about 10% of that is the Montgomery county tax.

Posted by: HockeyMike351 | August 13, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Local DC CHA Corporation Discriminates against DC Minority Customers

Friday, August 13, 2010
Mayor Adrian Fenty
Washington, DC
Subject Business Discrimination at the Lobby Mart Convenience Store, 3rd and E St., NW Washington, DC
DC Business Application # 56248
DC Business License # 60734
DC Retail Business Class “ B “

Dear Mayor Fenty and DC Government Officials:
I have noticed a pattern of discriminatory practices atr the CHA Corporation’s, Lobby Mart Convenience Store, located at 3rd and E St., NW Washington, DC. On numerous occasions, the store has left customers (mostly black) on the street side waiting 15 – 20 minutes for entry and service. During this long wait time, other customers (mostly white) are entering the store from the commercial office door and making purchases. Those of us left outside are watching others receive entry and service while we have NO access.
I have attempted to rationalize these actions not as racially based, but lack of management skills within a small “Mom and Pop” run business. But what I (and others) are experiencing is beyond small business problems. It is an outright neglect – denial of the same service to others, during posted business hours.
If you can, please confer with the DC Office of Regulatory Affairs and DC Small Business Administration to follow up with the management of this business, named CHA Corporation.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Katrina M. Taylor Hankins
Email: ( recoveringtrina@gmail.com and kth5921nw@gmail.com )

Posted by: recoveringtrina | August 13, 2010 11:17 AM | Report abuse

Putting power lines underground is not new technology. My home town is sixty years old and power lines were being put underground back then. Once, all power lines were on top of poles, but the industrialized world has long since taken them down and buried them. Anywhere that has been built since WW2 should have had the lines buried automatically. Where I currently live there is almost nothing over sixty years old, but we are still supplied by power lines strung up in the air. Yesterday the power went off five hours after the storm, so I went over to Kentlands to do some shopping. Naturally, the power was on for them. The power is always on for them. Guess why?

Posted by: dendeb | August 13, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

The hearing will be broadcast live on the internet, here: http://webapp.psc.state.md.us/Intranet/pscnews/video_new.cfm

Posted by: rboltuck | August 13, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I have a contrary viewpoint for which I, no doubt, will be flamed.

The problem is that too many electrical wires are above ground. The wires should be underground; however, we -- as a society -- have to determine whether we want to pay higher taxes or utility bills, preferably to re-regulated electric companies, rather than buy 80" flat screen TVs. If we would rather allocate our incomes to immediately gratifying consumer goods, we will continue to have power lines fall down in bad weather.

People are so entitled now that they think that power can be restored immediately. Even if pepco were better organized, how could pepco afford to have crews on call here and in other non-pepco jurisdictons 24/7? Even if crews were on call 24/7, it would still take time for trucks to reach affected areas. In short, I think that people need to be more realistic -- especially the extreme weather this year.

Posted by: RockvilleBear | August 13, 2010 11:54 AM | Report abuse

Local power distribution is and has always been regulated by states, and local distribution is where PEPCO is failing.

What was deregulated (at the federal level) was generation, b/c people realized that there is no natural monopoly argument for which power plant your local power company (and therefore you) should have buy electricity from.

This is not a hard concept. Please pay attention.

-------------------------
So much for 'deregulation' and 'competiton' of the power companies in the 'free market'.The power companies are the new Robber-Barons of the everyday citizen.Put the lines underground. Make the utility companies trim the trees until the lines in an area are all underground.Make the power companies obtain their energy from renewable sources. That will put lots of folks back to work!!

Posted by: 10bestfan | August 13, 2010 10:55 AM |

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

We are still without power after two days. And looking at the stats it appears that our area often is hit hard with power outages during storms (more often than other areas).

A few years ago I asked Pepco to do a analysis of our grid and six months later (six months!) they came back to me to say I was right! Our grid did have more than the average outages. But, more importantly, we seem to often be the last to have our power restored.

A few of my neighbors were talking out on the street last night (the coolest place to be) and decided we'd pay $500 over a period of 10 years to have our wires put underground. Pepco, stop placing wiring *through* tree limbs. Continually survey wires and trees to make sure the likelihood of a limb disconnecting a power line is minimized.

Also, please restructure your customer service. It's sad when I get a automated phone message saying my electricity is now on, only to find out it isn't.

Posted by: outtacontext | August 13, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

This is the second time in less than a month that I've been without power for at least 2 days. Maybe some preventive action instead of this really bad service after the storms. Possibly aerial views to assess quicker? Pepco has no problem sending me the bill today via e-mail but they can't get my service back on for 2 MORE DAYS????

Posted by: ibshort | August 13, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Pepco does seem to be dropping the ball esp in MoCo. After the storms in VA last week Alexandria was a disaster area. Trees, electric lines and poles were down all over the place. I didn't hear much complaining from Dominion customers probably because within a day or 2 at most for people I knew their power was back on.

Posted by: Redial1 | August 13, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

I lived in Silver Spring for one year, having moved there from Virginia. During that time, we had three power outages lasting 3 days or more, each.

I'm back in Virginia, now, in Alexandria. We recently had a power outage due to tornado-force winds. Power was back on in two days. It's the only time I've had a power outage lasting that long, in Virginia, in over 10 years.

Pepco is terrible. Absolutely terrible.

Probably the main reason is that so many of their customers are lower middle class, poor, etc. Whatever the case, they have no accountability to their customers.

I always chuckle sadly after a storm, when I hear the radio announce yet another 50,000+ Pepco customers are without power. It's the only thing about Pepco you CAN rely on.

Posted by: critic4u | August 13, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

Pepco should be forced to start putting wires underground. In the long run this will save money.

Posted by: dghyson1 | August 13, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

It must be their response is not up to par say compare to Dominion that get them into trouble. They must have cut a lot of emergency staffs to save $.

Posted by: drkly | August 13, 2010 1:32 PM | Report abuse

PEPCO = METRO, nuff said...

Posted by: mugengsr1 | August 13, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

I have a contrary viewpoint for which I, no doubt, will be flamed.
The problem is that too many electrical wires are above ground. The wires should be underground; however, we -- as a society -- have to determine whether we want to pay higher taxes or utility bills, preferably to re-regulated electric companies, rather than buy 80" flat screen TVs. If we would rather allocate our incomes to immediately gratifying consumer goods, we will continue to have power lines fall down in bad weather.
People are so entitled now that they think that power can be restored immediately. Even if pepco were better organized, how could pepco afford to have crews on call here and in other non-pepco jurisdictons 24/7? Even if crews were on call 24/7, it would still take time for trucks to reach affected areas. In short, I think that people need to be more realistic -- especially the extreme weather this year.
Posted by: RockvilleBear
-----------

No flames! Bravo, well put, today is too 'gimme what I want NOW',

a happy SMECO customer

Posted by: mloaks | August 13, 2010 1:41 PM | Report abuse

I own an ice cream store in Gaithersburg, but live in Fairfax County, VA. I never realized how ofter the power goes out until I owned an ice cream store! PEPCO is a racket. The only game in town, and a rip off. The store loses power at least 4 times per year, storm or no! Fairfax county hardly ever loses power.

Posted by: pjsmith1 | August 13, 2010 1:58 PM | Report abuse

I heard on NPR (last week, I think?) that PEPCO's excuse for not putting power lines underground is "...but that makes it harder to get to them when things do go wrong!"

Dude. Underground makes it less likely that things will go wrong! That means better service for your customers, and less money spent on OT for your employees every single time the wind picks up, or maintaining the trees near the lines.

I know it means a cash investment up-front, which people in this area in general seem allergic to. But how hard is it to understand the concept of long-term savings of time and money for everyone?

Posted by: BuffaloGal78 | August 13, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

I heard on NPR (last week, I think?) that PEPCO's excuse for not putting power lines underground is "...but that makes it harder to get to them when things do go wrong!"

Dude. Underground makes it less likely that things will go wrong! That means better service for your customers, and less money spent on OT for your employees every single time the wind picks up, or maintaining the trees near the lines.
I know it means a cash investment up-front, which people in this area in general seem allergic to. But how hard is it to understand the concept of long-term savings of time and money for everyone?
Posted by: BuffaloGal78 | August 13, 2010 2:05 PM
--------------------------
You didn't hear anyone FROM Pepco saying that. Do you ever watch new developments going up? All new construction goes underground. Pepco is limited by the PSC, by the local gov't and neighbohood activist is how much they are allowed to trim or cut down those troublesome trees. If the public is willing to cover the cost of burying lines, then Pepco would undoubtedly get it done. Does everyone on this board understand that the power company is LOSING money during outages? They don't like them any more than we do.

Posted by: shanks1 | August 13, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

PEPCO has in fact improved greatly. Their excuses grow more incredible each day!
If PEPCO were to be held liable for the costs of spoilage and relocation, or if PEPCO had to pay a fine for periods of prolonged outage, their response time sure would improve.
As it is the upcoming hearing a a small step, but in the right direction. PEPCO's feet have got to be held to the fire. There is no rhyme or reason for the highly unethical way they have treated their ratepayers.

Posted by: Translynx | August 13, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

I don't know what the people in Montgomery Co are complaining about.

True, the Ike Legget led Montgomery County Council just balanced its budget (including unsustainable pensions and Cadillac health plans) by imposing a whopping 300% increase in June 2010 to your electric utility tax bill.

True, thanks in part to Ike and the Md Public Service Commission you pay the highest electric utility rate in the Nation, (except Hawaii).

True, you have pretty unreliable service, but you get to listen (in the dark-hot in cold in winter) to Pepco and County officials blame each other while both do little to improve the infrastructure or maintain what's here.

True, the Md Public Service Commission (which is misnamed, as it offers no service to the public whatsover) ensures that Pepco's (and WGL as well) rates at all levels exceed national norms and bear little relation to the market including yet another increase effective July 29 2010!

You may think this is all part of a long term plan by Legget and O'Malley against large flat screen TV's, greedy citizens suffering hot flashes who we all know abuse the air conditioning in the summer time, and all those CPAP and Oxygen users who think they need electrical equipment to breathe at night. Legget thinks those folks need to learn to get buy with less electricity.

The real long term solution is more effective regulation of Pepco and a change in leadership in Rockville and Annapolis.

Posted by: ubimea | August 13, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

This same tired dance goes on every few years. Bad storms come in, power is out for days, people go nuts and politicians grandstand until the outrage dies down.
For all you undergounders out there, Pepco will gladly add to their infrastructure, which they make a regulated return on, as long as you are prepared to see your rates go way up. And yes, as some of you noted, state and local government use your electric bill as another source of tax revenue. Similarly Pepco will hire more crews to sit around until the next bad storm - just pay higher bills. By the way those crews work real hard. It's not at all an easy job.
Now Pepco's communications are another story. That's just incompetence. Their head of communications is just a political hire, a former local TV reporter. It's not rocket science or even electrical engineering to get that part of storm response right.

Posted by: Observer21 | August 13, 2010 4:34 PM | Report abuse

As I tweeted at Gov. O'Malley yesterday, PEPCO is one of the worst things about moving to this side of the river after a lifetime on the other. Power in our neighborhood has fluctuated every time there is a thunderstorm, despite supposed upgrades in a local distribution site last fall.

The solution definitely includes undegrounding neighborhood power lines; and with the extensive tunneling efforts undertaken by phone and cable companies, PEPCO is hard-pressed to say that a state or local mandate to underground is over-reaching. Another worthy solution to consider is having the power to every PEPCO corporate officer and senior manager shut off for as long as more than 5,000 Marylanders are without electricity.

Posted by: bigolpoofter | August 13, 2010 4:53 PM | Report abuse

I live in a section of Gaithersburg that has underground wiring. That doesn't prevent us from losing power. This was the first storm where we didn't lose power, but we did during the previous two. What bothers me even more is the often-occuring second-long blips that last just long enough to screw up all of the electronics in the house.

Many of these mini-failures happen on perfectly sunny days. I've twice asked for an investigation, and twice received no information.

PEPCO needs to start providing information to customers.

Posted by: chipper2 | August 13, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse

I live in a section of Gaithersburg that has underground wiring. That doesn't prevent us from losing power. This was the first storm where we didn't lose power, but we did during the previous two. What bothers me even more is the often-occuring second-long blips that last just long enough to screw up all of the electronics in the house.

Many of these mini-failures happen on perfectly sunny days. I've twice asked for an investigation, and twice received no information.

PEPCO needs to start providing information to customers.

Posted by: chipper2 | August 13, 2010 10:12 PM | Report abuse

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