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Posted at 1:13 PM ET, 07/28/2010

Pepco acknowledges response problems

By Washington Post editors

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Pepco region president Thomas H. Graham said Wednesday morning that the number of customers without power had dipped below 31,000 and damaged substations were operating again.

During a news briefing, Graham acknowledged that the utility’s caller response technology performed poorly during and after the storm. He encouraged customers to continue reporting outages, and said Pepco will strive to trim more trees on private property as part of regular maintenance, even in green-minded Montgomery County.

“We still ask for our customers’ patience,” Graham said. “We apologize for the inconvenience. But we’re working as hard as we can to restore service.”

After power is restored, he said, the utility will fully turn its attention to improving caller response technology, which had offered errant estimations of when service would be restored.

“We are not satisfied with the way our technology performed during this event,” he said. “It was just not acceptable.”



Graham said Pepco doesn’t have a magic lighted board that lets it pinpoint individual customers without power.

“The best piece of diagnostic information that we have right now are our customers calling 1-877-PEPCO62,” he said.

Tree-induced outages on private property continue to be a big problem for the utility. He said the area serviced by Pepco has the third densest tree population canopy in the United States, behind the Atlanta and Portland areas. Some areas of Montgomery County consider tree canopy at their core fabric, he noted.

Graham said the utility is working with county officials to be able to trim trees more easily on private property in the future.

“I’ve lived here my whole life. I love the area. The trees are a big part of it,” Graham said. “But now that I work for a utility, I also understand the down side of that ... If we had the opportunity to do so, we’d be a little more aggressive with tree trimming, especially in Montgomery County.”

-- Dan Morse

By Washington Post editors  | July 28, 2010; 1:13 PM ET
Categories:  DC, Maryland  
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Comments

I would believe Graham's comments more if I didn't walk around my neighborhood and see lots of trees spray-painted with an orange dot, meaning they been marked for removal because they are old/sick/unstable.

These trees were never removed although Mother Nature did the job for PEPCO/the County in this last storm and took several power lines with them.

So now I'm supposed to feel pity for PEPCO because they complain about the tree canopy? How about start by removing the trees already marked for removal?

Posted by: B-rod | July 28, 2010 1:53 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Graham, I am sure you and your family have AC and power, but you have the nerve to apologize for our lack of power??? Our neighbor has a TREE and an electric pole on his house and Montgomery Cty has not done ANYTHING since the storm on Sunday. Our neighborhood also suffered during the two snow storms in February. We were snow-bound for EIGHT days! Regarding the power outage...our power went off on Sunday at 4pm and there were LIVE lines in our street. A transformer across the street was on FIRE with a tree 1 foot above! I called the police and the fire company. Neither did anything! And the fire company actually told us...and I quote, "We have to go to a real emergency". We moved to Maryland in 2006 from PA and have hated every day since we arrived. You are not concerned about the people that live and spend their hard earned money in this county. And you are apologizing for the outage? Who is going to pay for the $500 worth of food rotting in our freezer? Will you send us a check? I talked to Pepco this morning and they cannot restore power with a county tree down on the lines. The county says it is Pepco's problem. He said, She said???? So who is going to fix our lines? The last I heard, we will have power at 11:30pm on FRIDAY! I am so angry that I have no words to describe my state at this moment. Obviously, you are happy in your nice home and have no concern for the people in Montgomery Cty. ~Amy C.

Posted by: amyg0324 | July 28, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

I understand down trees and down lines. That you can't control. Takes some time to repair, I'm fine with that. What I'm not fine with is that I look out my back window and people who live within distance of me throwing a ball, still have power. Why is that? Same neighborhood, similar street. But, if the sky so much as sneezes, my power goes out. Put me on whatever lines they are on, since I was told by one person, who lives 5 houses away, that in 18 years, she has never last power for more than a few hours. ALSO, at my job, if I don't perform it well, I can be punished. So, we PAY to have PEPCO provide us a service. It is their job. So, when their job fails, and I lose hundreds of dollars worth of food, I should be compensated. Not asking for a full refund, but how about half of what I paid. If you can provide a receipt of grocery purchase within 2 days of a power outage, you should receive a rebate to repurchase those items you had to discard. Where are the lessons learned from the Blizzard? What is being done to prevent this from occuring all the time? There was no snow to use as an excuse this time. 4 or 5 days of no electricity is unacceptable in my book.

Posted by: kenw1 | July 28, 2010 2:06 PM | Report abuse

I'm livid beyond words at Pepco's non-response to this power outage. No power since Sunday. All my food is gone. I've had to literally move out of my house because it is uninhabitable in 95 degree temps. Apology not accepted!! I would bet dollars to donuts that every top executive at Pepco has a natural gas powered emergency generator at their homes. They know that their utility is utterly unreliable and incompetent.

Posted by: PepperDr | July 28, 2010 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I am completely disillusioned with ever ever getting competent service from PEPCO. They have consistently proven over my 11 years of living in Montgomery County that they are not reliable, rarely answer the phone and have no problem raising rates. Since January of this year I've been without power for almost an entire month, if I throw in Dec.09 then I'm over a month, yet I pay my bill on time every month! Like others I have about $500 of food in my freezer that will have to be tossed. Fortunately my son is a teenager, but my heart goes out to my neighbors with infants and my elderly neighbors as well as my neighbor receiving chemo who have had to go to a hotel. I seriously hope Pepco reconsiders sending bills to customers for a while!
As soon as i get power at home, you'd better believe i will be looking into alternatives to Pepco.

Posted by: rmaleh | July 28, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

I am completely disillusioned with ever ever getting competent service from PEPCO. They have consistently proven over my 11 years of living in Montgomery County that they are not reliable, rarely answer the phone and have no problem raising rates. Since January of this year I've been without power for almost an entire month, if I throw in Dec.09 then I'm over a month, yet I pay my bill on time every month! Like others I have about $500 of food in my freezer that will have to be tossed. Fortunately my son is a teenager, but my heart goes out to my neighbors with infants and my elderly neighbors as well as my neighbor receiving chemo who have had to go to a hotel. I seriously hope Pepco reconsiders sending bills to customers for a while!
As soon as i get power at home, you'd better believe i will be looking into alternatives to Pepco.

Posted by: rmaleh | July 28, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

There was a summer storm. Much of Montgomery County lost power due to downed lines. Where is the news in that? LOL

Posted by: 54465446 | July 28, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Pepco service is a disaster but one does have to wonder why its customers who experience frequent outages don't put the energy they use for endless whining into getting generators.

Posted by: checkered1 | July 28, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

The bad response was made worse when PEPCO told its customers to go to sources of bad and outdated information. It turned a frustrating experience into a disaster. Most of Montgomery County is STILL shown as being restored by Friday 11:30pm on their storm center web site. PEPCO's CEO was on TV at the same time saying Thursday. With all that, I was restored Tuesday at 11:30pm, and got a call about it this morning at 6 am (we left for a hotel).

Posted by: jslaff | July 28, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

After the 2003 hurricane which knocked out our power, Pepco did a lot of tree trimming in Rockville; these were trees in the public area, i.e., city easement. They also trimmed back limbs on the privately owned trees if they were over lines. Many homeowners have removed trees since then. Some of the trees which went down this time were on private property. If you are a property owner, you have a responsibility to have your trees pruned periodically if you don't want damage to your house or go without power. Many people seem to ignore pruning because of the cost. It is not Pepco's responsibility. Pruning helps the trees tolerate heavy winds.
Secondly, when the power goes out, immediately contact Pepco via the phone number on your account; ask your neighbors to do the same which increases the number of people needing assistance. This contact gets your house in the grid and Pepco knows the power is out. While I know everyone hates to have spoiled food, it comes with living in Montgomery County or our entire area if you want to have trees as well. I'll take this area any day when compared to living in tornado alley, earthquake zones, flood areas, hurricane areas, etc. I've lived in Rockville for 30 years and we have had three major power outages during that time; the worst was in the winter but we made it through. We'll do it again this time.

Posted by: fancar2000 | July 28, 2010 2:59 PM | Report abuse

I have been living here in Montgomery County for the past 17 years and I have had it with Pepco and these constant outages for prolonged periods of time. Don't be apologizing for the incorrect information given to customers, fix the system so that outages are not this prolonged. Why is it taking days to restore service? Why is the person across the street from me have power and I don't? How are these grids set up? These are the explanations I want to hear.

Posted by: Coconut52 | July 28, 2010 3:25 PM | Report abuse

What a bunch of whiners and complainers we have in MoCo. Guess what folks, every year we have strong and powerful storms that knock down trees which take power lines down with them. That's the cost of living in this area. I've been here 40+ years and nothing has changed when it comes to losing power. You can blame Pepco all you want but the fact remains nobody wants their trees touched by Pepco or MoCo Gov't. And no one wants their electricity rates raised or go through the inconvenience to have all the lines in the area burried.

I too lost power for two days. Lost half the food in my fridge. Packed up two infants and a todler to stay in a hotel Monday night and have learned a valuable lesson about life in MoCo.

I'm responsible for the power in my house. Not Pepco. Not MoCo Gov't. I am.

I will be investing in a generator because I'm 100% certain another storm will come, trees will be felled, and with them the power lines that provide juice to my home.

Prepare today for tomorrow.

Posted by: kmp1 | July 28, 2010 3:31 PM | Report abuse

OK. I would be upset too if my power was still out. But I am always curious as to how people immediately jump to the assumption that PEPCO is somewhere munching donuts and "doesn't care" because it takes so long to restore power. If there are ten times more downed trees in one storm vs another, it will take ten times longer for power to be restored. So the guy behind you has power and you don't! Does that mean PEPCO hates you?!! We expect our government and our utilities to be lean and mean, but then expect it to be able to correct every outtage immediately and if they don't, its because they are incompetent. Aside from the system for estimating when power will be restored, what exactly is your standard for assuming PEPCO isn't putting all available resources into solving the problem?

Posted by: tradeczar | July 28, 2010 3:34 PM | Report abuse

"Graham said Pepco doesn’t have a magic lighted board that lets it pinpoint individual customers without power."

If PEPCO would install smart radio-equipped meters as are other utilities it could pinpoint individual customers.

Posted by: Bitter_Bill | July 28, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

"Pepco acknowledges response problems"

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Haven't we heard this before?

Posted by: waterfrontproperty | July 28, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

In no other civilized country do you see power lines on utility poles in urban areas. Bury those lines already. It doesn't have to be done all at the same time. Take the most vulnerable 5% every year and bury them. Going through the repairs when storms hit must not be cheap either.

My neighborhood is 20 yrs old and has buried lines. In 20 yrs we've lost power only when the tornado hit College Park several years ago and last weekend (and power was back up within about 12 hrs and everything in the fridge was OK).

Posted by: MikeinDC2 | July 28, 2010 4:01 PM | Report abuse

What I'd like to see is a service similar to the one for reporting dark streetlights, only for reporting trees that could use a pruning. I know Pepco sends crews out regularly to trim foliage, but if we could report specific areas that look questionable, they could prioritize those areas and hopefully prevent a similar outage in the future.

And yes, we still have no power (Calverton area, 20904) even though houses further down the road do. It's extremely irritating. Moreso because although the number of outages in our zip code has been steadily dropping according to Pepco's outage map, the triangle in our area still shows the same number of outages, and the same July 30 @ 11:30 PM restoration time

I understand that Pepco is trying to restore power as soon as possible, but I do think there are lessons they should take from the week's events.

Posted by: kennedye | July 28, 2010 4:06 PM | Report abuse

With the extended outages that customers have experienced, I understand your frustrations. Our number one priority is to restore customers' power as quickly and safely as possible. Our crews have and will continue to work 24/7 until all customers' power is restored.

Having said that, we also recognize that there was a malfunction in our ETR reporting system since Sunday. This glitch has been fixed and never affected the speed or efficiency of the power restoration efforts of our crews.

I will continue posting updates as I receive them @PepcoConnect on Twitter.

Best,
Andre (Pepco Social Media Representative)

Posted by: Pepcoconnect | July 28, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

This is why living in Maryland and/or DC sucks, and why Dominion Power in Virginia rules!!!!!

Posted by: WildBill1 | July 28, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Pepco's response was beyond poor. It was abysmal. The recording I got Sunday evening was that a crew had been dispatched to my location. That was a flat-out lie. Pepco ought to be ashamed of the way it treated those who have to pay for its miserable existance. But I guess I'm old fashioned. I think that if a service is paid for in a timely manner, that's how it has to be provided. Stop the excuses!

Posted by: Translynx | July 28, 2010 4:43 PM | Report abuse

The issue right now is not that your automated telephone response system is glitchy. No one, including myself, who is trying to live in a hot, sticky, darkened house wants to hear your plans to fix your customer service system next month.

The only words coming out of your mouth should be about when our power will be restored and what Pepco will be doing to avoid a repeat of this disaster -- as it should have done dozens of times before.

Posted by: megreenberg | July 28, 2010 4:56 PM | Report abuse

The obvious solution is to have underground power lines. Yes, that is expensive, but what is the cost to the region each time we lose power--which is multiple times a year for multiple days at a time? I grew up in Colorado where they had the good sense to bury power lines many years ago and we never, ever lost power in any type of storm.

Posted by: LOSTFAN | July 28, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Bury the utility lines!

This happens with every major storm. Think of the cost to PEPCO of paying out-of-town utility workers, their own workers, and Asplundh (to kill trees by cutting huge "Vs" in their crowns for the power lines). The cost to businesses of lost business, to residents of lost food, sleep, and displacement. The cost to Urban Forestry Admin to replace the trees that PEPCO kills every year...The cost to local police forces who have to direct traffic at intersections where the lights are out.

This is not 'make work'. It could put lots of people to work.. engineers, heavy equipment operators, laborers. An economic stimulus that all can see and support.

We would get our trees and the wonderful canopy they used to provide back. The place wouldn't look like the set from a Western movie, denuded of trees.

And we'd have a lot fewer outages of broad swaths of our region.

PEPCO and local governments would have a lot more satisfied customers.

Posted by: beltway690 | July 28, 2010 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Well there are no trees or utility lines down in my SE/Hillcrest/Penn Branch Neighborhood...we lost power when the sun was still shining abuot 30-45 minutes before the storm came through, and have not had any power since then. Every time there is a storm and major outage, it is only my block which consists of about 20 houses on the street that lose power, and everything and everyone surrounding us does not...you can look through my backyard at the church on the corner who still has lights on BURNING ELECTRICITY WITHOUT ANYONE EVEN BEING IN THE CHURCH (WHO MIGHT I ADD DO NOT OPEN THEIR DOORS TO THE COMMUNITY IN TIMES OF NEED LIKE THIS). I agree 100% with an earlier comment, Pepco please put us on whatever grid that is surrounding my neighborhood because this doesnt make any sense. We go from one extreme to the next, we went without power for days during the snowstorm while others surrounding us still had electricity. RIDICULOUS!

Posted by: SELady82 | July 28, 2010 5:18 PM | Report abuse

My neighborhood still does not have power. My frustration is not only with Pepco's failure to address long-standing issues such as burying power lines, but their incredibly poor, inaccurate and and possibly dishonest response to customer service. I believe that significantly more households are without power than their on-line system shows as it does not reflect the reality in our neighborhood.

Calling the Pepco line to get updated information about when we can expect to get power has proven to be useless. We have a neighborhood listserv and have been sharing our information and the feedback from Pepco's helpline and Pepco's automated alert system has ranged from: robo calls saying power has been restored (not true)to customer service reps who are completely uninformed and often very annoyed with our calls including comments such as: no one reported the outage in our neighborhood until two days after it occurred; only a few people in our development/area are without power, telling us to tell everyone without power to call or to call back for updates, then being annoyed that multiple people from our neighborhood have called to report outages; claiming that our problem is due to "something with the power lines"; saying our builders hooked us up to the wrong grid (this for a neighborhood over 25 years old); and having no idea why we are still having problems and when it will likely be resolved so we can make plans. If someone from the Washington Post would like to write an article about Pepco's customer service, our listserv would be a very valuable resource.

Posted by: mhumd | July 28, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

The information system was horrible. We were first told that our electricity would be back on by midnight Sunday. We were then told Monday at 6, then Tuesday 6, and finally Friday by midnight. Thankfully, the electricity came on early Wednesday. Even more frustrating is that we were told if the repair crews get some electricity back on in a given area, they assume it has come back for everybody. Therefore you have to call again to get your outage recorded once again and put into the service queue once again. The customer service reps we talked to were basically clueless.

Posted by: bamboo3 | July 28, 2010 5:27 PM | Report abuse

tradeczar,

Are you kidding? We PAY a lot of dough for service from Pepco and DO NOT receive the service we need. During the two snow storms, our power was out for two days. Apparently, our street/block is not a top priority. After our storm on Sunday, that lasted 15 mins, our transformer was on FIRE...it was on FIRE. Also a 50 yr old tree and electric pole fell on our neighbor's house with live wires sparking. Pepco, the fire dept and the police dept have done NOTHING. Pepco was out today, but can't restore power because of a downed tree. No one wants to take responsibility for the tree. I can whine if I want...Pepco sucks and Montgomery Cty sucks as well. I guess you are not whining...you have power! When you lose $500 worth of food in this economy, let me know.

Posted by: amyg0324 | July 28, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

kmp:
"Guess what folks, every year we have strong and powerful storms that knock down trees which take power lines down with them. That's the cost of living in this area."

Here's the thing though. I've lived in Reston now for about 4 years, and I can probably count on my fingers the number of times the power's been out, and it's never been out for very long.

"I've been here 40+ years and nothing has changed when it comes to losing power."

Yes. That's the problem!

"And no one wants their electricity rates raised or go through the inconvenience to have all the lines in the area burried."

Most of the lines where I live are buried and I pay way less with Dominion than my coworkers pay with PepCo. Something is wrong in MD.

Posted by: presto668 | July 28, 2010 6:02 PM | Report abuse

We had power on for eight hours before it was turned off.. no explanations.
It is worse than 3rd world country, such as China . Company like PepCO is a disgrace to this society.
I wish them the worst!

Posted by: tim_pa | July 28, 2010 6:08 PM | Report abuse

We had power on for eight hours before it was turned off.. no explanations.
It is worse than 3rd world country, such as China . Company like PEPCO is a disgrace to this society.
I wish them the worst!

Posted by: tim_pa | July 28, 2010 6:09 PM | Report abuse

Two things to do - but I just left Montgomery County for Frederick, so I am OK, now.

Don't try to fix the entire system. But (1) if there are lines where transformers and wire are replaced at every storm or so - put them under ground.

and (2) have Apartments supply emergency generators or alternative power supplies.

Posted by: gary4books | July 28, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

amygo324:

A storm knocked down trees and you lost power. Gotta be SOMEONE's fault. Gotta blame SOMEONE. I blame everything on Bush Try that if it makes you feel better. Works for me.

Posted by: tradeczar | July 28, 2010 7:00 PM | Report abuse

amygo324:

A storm knocked down trees and you lost power. Gotta be SOMEONE's fault. Gotta blame SOMEONE. I blame everything on Bush Try that if it makes you feel better. Works for me.

Posted by: tradeczar | July 28, 2010 7:01 PM | Report abuse

We've now had seven power outages in my Glenmont/Layhill neighborhood in the past three weeks. Two blocks off Georgia Avenue, our power goes off when a squirrel sneezes. Happened all last winter, again all this summer, again and again for the five years I've lived here. I drove our grid's path Tuesday and not a single line was down, yet we were black for 53 hours.

A 3-mile stretch of homes, businesses and stoplights on Georgia from Randolph Road to Connecticut Ave. were down for more than 48 hours. How can this be? A major thoroughfare in one of the wealthiest counties in America.

It does no good to bark at Pepco. They're deaf and not forced to accountability. So attention should be turned to your County executive and council members.

Were they there for you with Pepco during the blizzard? For the plowing, snow and trash removal, and cleanup?

Were they there for you during this outage with Pepco from a 15-minute storm? Were any of them front and center on anything other than spin and covering their hides?

If not, remind them their re-elections are NOT guaranteed next year. Remind them of the loss of food, home, work, play, family, convenience and money in one of the most highly taxed counties around. Remind them time and again of these ongoing events.

Hold them responsible for failure of civic duty. Mail them your grocery, dining-out and hotel bills from this latest mess. Make them hold Pepco accountable. They'll get the message--when they're voted back into civilianality.

Posted by: dentuttle | July 28, 2010 7:40 PM | Report abuse

I lost power and ended up in a hotel by the fairgrounds in G-Burg. At the time, I was "irked" by PEPCO and their crazya$$ed reporting system. While in G-burg I saw scores of trucks from PA, NC, & OH and I am sure there were others...moving in and out in a constant (seemingly 24X7) stream. I knew then that I was seeing a massive, massive undertaking bringing and deploying myriad component parts in response to a storm that savaged & mauled MoCo unexpectedly. I got power back in the wee hrs this AM & I think I will long remember PEPCOs response to this event: both the utter sorriness of the reporting and impressiveness of its mobilization across many states within a few hours.

Posted by: juno77275 | July 28, 2010 8:56 PM | Report abuse

Nature is nature but it is unacceptable that PEPCO has not fixed their response network after previous failures the last few years. It is better to tell someone you do not know then to state for PR purposes that "we know you need to plan" a "full assesment has been made and crew assigned". Power restored by Wednesday and then call back an hour later and it is 11:30 Friday. The positive side of PEPCO is the hard working employees. The crime is the PR machine that spins know lies.

Posted by: ala1 | July 29, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Pepco has let down their customers and their employees with their PR response. I have spoken with several crews and supervisors who are upset with the misleading information being spewed on WTOP etc..

If the D.C. Public Service Commision does not take action after this response it will be a shame.

Posted by: ala1 | July 29, 2010 9:55 AM | Report abuse

I find the customer service from Pepco to be horrible. For a week they have said our power would be back on Fri 7/30. It came on 9pm on 7/27. Now its back off because of 1 storm? Is this now goign to happen everytime we have a storm because August is generally the worst!!! pepco doesn't care and can't seem to move faster than a snail!! I feel like I live in a 3rd world country now

Posted by: sherri4 | July 29, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse

You would expect slow incompetetant service from a large protectect bureacratic monopoly like Pepco but they don't even perform that well. This county is one of the top 10 weathiest counties in the states and our power reliability is near the bottom. All we get from Pepco is "we're doing our best". Well either they are lying or are completely inept, I'm going to guess the latter. They need to be ousted or have serious competition brought in that can adequately service this county. The concern is that someday when they do get all the outages from this storm back in service, the community does not forget. We need to start getting on the politicians to put some heat on Pepco. We cannot accept this 3rd world service and mountains of excuses! Oust PEPCO!!!!

Posted by: reddog4321 | July 29, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

We had to escape our home. Who is going to reimburse our costs What about people out of jobs who have small children and have all their food ruined? Who is paying for their restaurant meals? This outage is costing families money.
Who reimburses?

Posted by: kesslermle | July 29, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

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