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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 12/12/2010

Hold Pepco accountable

By Mary M. Cheh, Washington

I read with great interest the Dec. 5 front-page article "Why Pepco can't keep the lights on."

Pepco's operations in the District of Columbia are, by law, regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC), a three-member body backed by approximately $10 million and 70 employees. Unfortunately for D.C. residents, businesses and visitors, however, the PSC - the one entity that could force Pepco to improve - has taken no effective steps in the past three years to enhance the reliability of electric service.

In that time it has become increasingly evident, as the Dec. 5 article showed, that Pepco is not committed to ensuring that the District's electricity stays on. The deterioration in service prompted the Office of the People's Counsel to request that the PSC open an investigation into Pepco's reliability and confront the matter head-on. On Oct. 6, the PSC denied that request, choosing instead to examine the issue "in the context of various investigations" - despite the fact that Maryland's Public Service Commission saw fit to protect state ratepayers by initiating a case on the company's reliability on Aug. 12.

Quite simply, the PSC has failed D.C. ratepayers. This failure is part of a broader negligence by the agency. The point of the PSC is to ensure that utility companies are not imposing unnecessary costs on ratepayers and that the ratepayers get what they pay for: effective, reliable service. In recent years, the PSC has not required Pepco to be lean and trim. It has not
scrubbed Pepco's high management expenses, and it has allowed Pepco to pass on to District customers the costs of a defined-benefit pension plan for Pepco's employees. Not even D.C. government employees (with the exception of police, firefighters and teachers) enjoy defined-benefit plans, which are notoriously expensive.

Pepco routinely generates annual profits in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Allowing its managers and stockholders to walk away with large sums might be tolerable if it were the cost of having reliable electricity service. Pepco's region president, Thomas Graham, has repeatedly claimed that reliability is Pepco's "number one commitment." It is unfathomable that the PSC can continue to accept such platitudes in the face of Pepco's poor service. As each outage crisis occurs, we see the same behavior: Pepco says that it will do better and puts forward yet another "new" plan. And the PSC goes along.

There is a way out of this cycle of empty promises. The PSC must establish clear and rigorous performance metrics for reliability and enforce them with penalties to be paid from Pepco's profits, not by ratepayers. I have asked that the PSC establish such performance requirements in the past, but it has not, because, I believe, the members of the PSC are too close to Pepco to hold the company properly accountable.

District residents are tired of the status quo. The Post article quoted one businessman from Maryland as saying, "Out here, everyone's had enough of Pepco." Unfortunately, that viewpoint is not shared by the members of the PSC, who have, with great reliability, allowed Pepco to pay lip service to this issue for years. The path to reliable electricity is clear; we only need a PSC that is willing to set foot upon it. And, if the PSC refuses to take those steps on its own, I intend to introduce legislation that will drag it there.

The writer, a Democrat, represents Ward 3 on the D.C. Council.

By Mary M. Cheh, Washington  | December 12, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
Categories:  D.C., D.C. politics, HotTopic, energy, environment, weather  
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Comments

As a former employee for Florida Power & Light Co. and having weathered 3-4 back-to- back hurricanes in 2005, we know a little something about keeping the lights on. We didn't have all the answers in 2004-05 but learned quickly after 4 million experienced outages that lasted more than 30 days in sweltering summer heat, not to mention national coverage of the debacle.

Here's what we did:

The company instituted a long-term infrastructure hardening program that prioritized outage-prone communities by:

>Adopting NESC extreme wind velocity zone criteria as its new standard for all new distribution construction and system upgrades
>Initiating a comprehensive tree trimming program, block by block to cut back vegetation
>Identifying and tagging weak/deteriorating poles and replacement with concrete or new poles
>Initiating overhead to underground conversions

In addition to the Storm Secure plan FPL had always tracked and reported its reliability to customers and the Public Service Commission constantly benchmarking the best in the industry and was held accountable by the PSC for performance. These upgrades also were the subject of requests for increased rates most times not supported by the general public.

On a completely different level, FPL has a sophisticated outage restoration methodology which prioritizes critical infrastructure services (police, fire, water, hospital, govt) followed by high density residential to low density for restoration. If FPL's crews were overwhelmed it too has agreements with other out of state utilities that arrive on a moments notice to assist with broad, large scale restoration.

All this is to say that the utility should have a plan in place to quickly restore power and mitigate outages. Residents should also be prepared for up to 5 days with no power if in an outage prone area. The failure to plan is not an emergency to the utility--- invest in a generator and/or other options when its called for.

Posted by: DelgardoT | December 12, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

As a former employee for Florida Power & Light Co. and having weathered 3-4 back-to- back hurricanes in 2005, we know a little something about keeping the lights on. We didn't have all the answers in 2004-05 but learned quickly after 4 million experienced outages that lasted more than 30 days in sweltering summer heat, not to mention national coverage of the debacle.

Here's what we did:

The company instituted a long-term infrastructure hardening program that prioritized outage-prone communities by:

>Adopting NESC extreme wind velocity zone criteria as its new standard for all new distribution construction and system upgrades
>Initiating a comprehensive tree trimming program, block by block to cut back vegetation
>Identifying and tagging weak/deteriorating poles and replacement with concrete or new poles
>Initiating overhead to underground conversions

In addition to the Storm Secure plan FPL had always tracked and reported its reliability to customers and the Public Service Commission constantly benchmarking the best in the industry and was held accountable by the PSC for performance. These upgrades also were the subject of requests for increased rates most times not supported by the general public.

On a completely different level, FPL has a sophisticated outage restoration methodology which prioritizes critical infrastructure services (police, fire, water, hospital, govt) followed by high density residential to low density for restoration. If FPL's crews were overwhelmed it too has agreements with other out of state utilities that arrive on a moments notice to assist with broad, large scale restoration.

All this is to say that the utility should have a plan in place to quickly restore power and mitigate outages. Residents should also be prepared for up to 5 days with no power if in an outage prone area. The failure to plan is not an emergency to the utility--- invest in a generator and/or other options when its called for.

Posted by: DelgardoT | December 12, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

As a former employee for Florida Power & Light Co. and having weathered 3-4 back-to- back hurricanes in 2005, we know a little something about keeping the lights on. We didn't have all the answers in 2004-05 but learned quickly after 4 million experienced outages that lasted more than 30 days in sweltering summer heat, not to mention national coverage of the debacle.

Here's what we did:

The company instituted a long-term infrastructure hardening program that prioritized outage-prone communities by:

>Adopting NESC extreme wind velocity zone criteria as its new standard for all new distribution construction and system upgrades
>Initiating a comprehensive tree trimming program, block by block to cut back vegetation
>Identifying and tagging weak/deteriorating poles and replacement with concrete or new poles
>Initiating overhead to underground conversions

In addition to the Storm Secure plan FPL had always tracked and reported its reliability to customers and the Public Service Commission constantly benchmarking the best in the industry and was held accountable by the PSC for performance. These upgrades also were the subject of requests for increased rates most times not supported by the general public.

On a completely different level, FPL has a sophisticated outage restoration methodology which prioritizes critical infrastructure services (police, fire, water, hospital, govt) followed by high density residential to low density for restoration. If FPL's crews were overwhelmed it too has agreements with other out of state utilities that arrive on a moments notice to assist with broad, large scale restoration.

All this is to say that the utility should have a plan in place to quickly restore power and mitigate outages. Residents should also be prepared for up to 5 days with no power if in an outage prone area. The failure to plan is not an emergency to the utility--- invest in a generator and/or other options when its called for.

Posted by: DelgardoT | December 12, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

As a former employee for Florida Power & Light Co. and having weathered 3-4 back-to- back hurricanes in 2005, we know a little something about keeping the lights on. We didn't have all the answers in 2004-05 but learned quickly after 4 million experienced outages that lasted more than 30 days in sweltering summer heat, not to mention national coverage of the debacle.

Here's what we did:

The company instituted a long-term infrastructure hardening program that prioritized outage-prone communities by:

>Adopting NESC extreme wind velocity zone criteria as its new standard for all new distribution construction and system upgrades
>Initiating a comprehensive tree trimming program, block by block to cut back vegetation
>Identifying and tagging weak/deteriorating poles and replacement with concrete or new poles
>Initiating overhead to underground conversions

In addition to the Storm Secure plan FPL had always tracked and reported its reliability to customers and the Public Service Commission constantly benchmarking the best in the industry and was held accountable by the PSC for performance. These upgrades also were the subject of requests for increased rates most times not supported by the general public.

On a completely different level, FPL has a sophisticated outage restoration methodology which prioritizes critical infrastructure services (police, fire, water, hospital, govt) followed by high density residential to low density for restoration. If FPL's crews were overwhelmed it too has agreements with other out of state utilities that arrive on a moments notice to assist with broad, large scale restoration.

All this is to say that the utility should have a plan in place to quickly restore power and mitigate outages. Residents should also be prepared for up to 5 days with no power if in an outage prone area. The failure to plan is not an emergency to the utility--- invest in a generator and/or other options when its called for.

Posted by: DelgardoT | December 12, 2010 2:45 PM | Report abuse

As a former employee for Florida Power & Light Co. and having weathered 3-4 back-to-back hurricanes in 2005, we know a little something about keeping the lights on. We didn't have all the answers in 2004-05 but learned quickly after 4 million experienced outages that lasted more than 30 days in sweltering summer heat, not to mention national coverage of the debacle.

Here's what we did:

The company instituted a long-term infrastructure hardening program that prioritized outage-prone communities by:

>Adopting NESC extreme wind velocity zone criteria as its new standard for all new distribution construction and system upgrades
>Initiating a comprehensive tree trimming program, block by block to cut back vegetation
>Identifying and tagging weak/deteriorating poles and replacement with concrete or new poles
>Initiating overhead to underground conversions

In addition to the Storm Secure plan FPL had always tracked and reported its reliability to customers and the Public Service Commission constantly benchmarking the best in the industry and was held accountable by the PSC for performance. These upgrades also were the subject of requests for increased rates most times not supported by the general public.

On a completely different level, FPL has a sophisticated outage restoration methodology which prioritizes critical infrastructure services (police, fire, water, hospital, govt) followed by high density residential to low density for restoration. If FPL's crews were overwhelmed it too has agreements with other out of state utilities that arrive on a moments notice to assist with broad, large scale restoration.

All this is to say that the utility should have a plan in place to quickly restore power and mitigate outages. Residents should also be prepared for up to 5 days with no power if in an outage prone area. The failure to plan is not an emergency to the utility--- invest in a generator and/or other options when its called for.

Posted by: DelgardoT | December 12, 2010 2:47 PM | Report abuse

Though my knowledge is as a customer of NStar (Boston Edison) and not as an employee, faced with significant numbers of outages as the result of extensive construction and condo conversions -- and with a lot of political pressure as the result of residents being left without power in wintertime, Boston Edison has been responding for the past several years by increasing high-voltage cables to relevant areas, breaking up circuits so that outages affect fewer people at a time, and even stationing a mobile generator while major work was being done. NStar has also taken the strange step of actually scheduling preventive work to be done AND notifying customers in advance when to expect temporary outages.

Now, life is not perfect. There is still a remarkable number of manhole fires, and from time to time dogs do find themselves electrocuted by street lights with short circuits.

But it is only rarely, it seems, that residents of greater Boston lose their electricity, and very very rarely that it's gone for as long as a day.

Posted by: edallan | December 13, 2010 12:43 AM | Report abuse

Mary:

There is no reason why any Pepco customer should be getting their electricity supply from Pepco when they can now get it at a much lower price.

Pepco is charging DC residential (schedule R) customers 11.06 cents per kWh for the electricity supply portion of their bill. Pepco's 11.06 cents price is 28% above the competive market price.

Due to de-regulation of the utility industry, Pepco customers can choose the energy company that supplies the electricity delivered to them by Pepco and get their electricity supply for 8.6 cents per kWh.

To understand how this works and to see the price difference, go to http://www.lowerelectricityrates.com/pepco . It takes about four minutes to lower the price of your electricity and costs you nothing to do so.

Posted by: mstrotz1 | December 13, 2010 2:20 PM | Report abuse

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