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Posted at 1:24 PM ET, 02/ 6/2011

What Pepco might learn from Vepco

By Peter Galuszka

There's plenty of news these days about how electric utility Pepco seems to be letting its customers down. The Post ran a front-page story Sunday about the etiquette of homeowners running generators during Pepco outages. Politicians have called for a change of leadership at the company because of its poor service and inefficiencies.

I can't say I know a lot about Pepco. But I am familiar with Vepco (Virginia Electric and Power Company and now Dominion) since I've been covering them as a journalist off and on since the 1970s.

Pepco might learn from the old Vepco.

Travel back three or more decades ago. Vepco was an arrogant firm run by old-school Virginia types supported by a bunch of ex-Navy yes men who ran their nuclear power stations in a "please the boss" kind of way.

Vepco should have been in a good spot back in those days because it had (and still has) a good mix of power, including coal, natural gas, nuclear and hydroelectric. The firm, however, had special problems with its Surry and North Anna nuclear power stations because of cozy deals the firm's top brass had with plant designers and simple incompetence.

By the late 1970s, Vepco had been fined more than any U.S. nuclear utility by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which found a number of serious design and operational problems at both nuke stations. The problems became much worse during the 1979 Iranian oil crisis as the cost of other forms of power, such as oil and coal, spiked.

The U.S. Department of Energy reported that Vepco might not be able to serve its customers and may have to resort to "rolling brownouts." Wall Street analysts were drubbing the utility.

Finally, Vepco brought in a a ringer who was a highly skilled nuclear engineer. He sorted out the nuke woes. Another change in top management brought the rest of the firm in line. In time, Vepco, which had changed its name to Dominion, had not only fixed its old problems but was expanding far beyond its traditional Virginia borders.

In Maryland, politicians such as U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen are calling for much tougher regulatory attention and a change of Pepco's top management.

Maybe it might work. It sure did across the Potomac.

Peter Galuszka blogs at Bacon's Rebellion. The Local Blog Network is a group of bloggers from around the D.C. region who have agreed to make regular contributions to All Opinions Are Local.

By Peter Galuszka  | February 6, 2011; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., D.C. politics, HotTopic, Local blog network, Maryland, Va. Politics, Virginia, development, economy, energy, environment  
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Or could it be that the Maryland Public Service Commission has not been granting Pepco the rate increases it requests to cover such items as tree trimming (the Washington area has a lot of trees)? Sometimes the blame lies in other areas.

Posted by: Thinker19 | February 6, 2011 4:35 PM | Report abuse

PEPCO uses virtually all it profits to support its generous dividend (almost 6%) with little left for major capital improvements.

Posted by: barlef | February 6, 2011 5:01 PM | Report abuse

Thinker19.. WOW.. you mean your Pepco bill is not high enough.. this is the most outrageous comment I have seen for a long time.. I have lived in different countries around the world.. Pepco is by far the worst utility companie I ever had to deal with. The rates are outrageous.. the service is worst.. even in third world countries, utility companies have their lines under ground.. the trees have nothing to do with a crumbling infrastructure and an incompetent management.. You must be working for Pepco, or you are not a Pepco customer.. unbelievable!

Posted by: ambs1 | February 6, 2011 5:37 PM | Report abuse


No, I do not work for Pepco. It is very expensive to put lines underground. And the Washington area does have a lot of trees compared to other areas.

Posted by: Thinker19 | February 7, 2011 12:19 AM | Report abuse

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