Pepco Official: 'We Understand the Anger'
The utility's post-storm response report was 'accurate,' region vice president says.
Customers spoke. Pepco listened.
Following more than four hours of testimony before members of the state Public Service Commission on Tuesday in Rockville, Jerry Pasternak, Pepco’s region vice president for Maryland affairs, stood in a nearly empty hearing room at the Montgomery County Council building and told reporters what he heard.
“I think everybody who was here tonight was very sincere and expressed their views on how they feel,” Pasternak said of the testimony about his company’s performance in the days after the June 29 storm and extended power outage.
“And we heard that. We understand the anger. We understand the frustration. We’re working hard to overcome that. We’re working hard to restore their confidence in our ability to deliver safe and reliable electric service and we’re investing in the system in order to do that.”
In 2010, Pepco launched a $910 million, five-year investment plan that includes upgrades to power grid infrastructure, new technology such as Smart Meters, a vegetation management plan that includes increased tree trimming and the replacement of aging underground cables.
Tuesday’s hearing was the first of eight around the state to hear from the public about utilities’ performance following the storm.
A second hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Rennie Forum at Prince George’s Community College in Upper Marlboro. Pepco officials are scheduled to appear before the PSC on Sept. 13 in Baltimore. All hearings will be streamed live on the PSC’s Web site.
In July, the PSC approved $18 million of a $68 million rate increase requested by Pepco. The increase will mean a $2.02 increase (1.69 percent) to the typical residential monthly bill.
Pasternak said it was “premature” to discuss how much of an increase Pepco would request.
“Tonight’s not about rate increases,” Pasternak said. “Tonight’s about customers having their opportunity to talk directly to the commission and it’s an opportunity for us to hear directly from them what their concerns are.”
Asked by a television news reporter if the rate increase request is appropriate given the dissatisfaction with Pepco’s recent performance, Pasternak said: “I think what’s appropriate is for us to do what we need to do in order to deliver on what our commitment is to the customers.”
Pasternak also defended a report released by Pepco last month that critics say offers a too-positive portrayal of the utility’s performance after the storm that left 483,639 Pepco customers, including many in Takoma Park and surrounding areas without power.
“I think our report was accurate,” he said. “I think our report reflected the commitment and the effort that we put in to restoring service after the storm.”
Customers’ negative feelings toward the utility are a concern, Pasternak said.
Pepco needs “to do what we’re doing” with its five-year plan, he said. “We are committed. We will see this through. We will see the improvements in the system. Where we’ve made the improvements we’ve seen pretty significant improvements in reducing the number of outages and the duration of outages. So we are on the right path and we will continue to work with our customers and improve our service.”
The utility performs a “self-assessment” to evaluate its performance after major storms, Pasternak said. “We will continue to improve where we can improve and our goal is to regain our customers’ confidence and to continue our work to provide the service that I believe everyone should have.”
James Griffin, the president of the Pepco employees’ union, testified that the company does not have a sufficient number of its own line mechanics to respond to major storms and relies too heavily on outside contractors who don’t know the system.
“I think the important factor is that we had more personnel on our property working to restore [power after] this storm than we ever had before, given the combination of full-time Pepco personnel and contractors who are on site doing work every day,” Pasternak said.
Many of the contractors “are former Pepco employees who know the system really well, who have worked on the system,” he said. “I would say that we had people who knew the system and we had teams out there that knew the system and they were able to do their work.”
What do you think of Pepco's "take away" from Tuesday's hearing? Tell us in the comments.