An End to Utility Futility?

Pepco and Comcast seem better prepared for bad weather.

What’s going on around here?

It seems like we’ve had our share of severe thunderstorms this year, with plenty of high winds and torrential rain. This week we even saw golf-ball-sized hail at the Wheaton Ice Rink. But something very different is happening. Is it just me, or have the utilities gotten more reliable this year?

As a self-employed consultant with a home-based office, I am particularly vulnerable to interruptions in those "little" things like electricity and Internet access. So I worry about these things a great deal and am acutely aware of the performance of our local utilities. 

So what gives this summer? The lights have gone off exactly twice since May, and one of those was for less than five minutes. It was back on before I even finished shutting down my computers from their multiple battery back-up power supplies. 

Then, finally, last Sunday night it happened. During the most severe storm yet, with high winds and lightning everywhere, the lights finally went out and stayed out for the first time.  I was thinking: "Great, how many days am I going to lose this time?"

It was about 11 p.m. and I phoned Pepco’s automated outage reporting line. The recorded voice told me which buttons to press, verified my address, then gave me an estimated service restoration time: about 3:30 a.m. Monday morning. The process was simple, I was never placed on hold, got no busy signals, everything was smooth as silk. Still, I went to bed with a sense of foreboding, thinking about all the deadlines I had the following day that required access to documents on my computer and the ability to email.

About 12:30 that night I was awakened by blazing lights, the soft hum of our air conditioner, and a radio in one of the kids’ rooms as the power came back on.  I smiled and was about to go back to sleep when I thought, maybe I should just check the Internet. 

Sure enough, it was out. So I placed a call to Comcast, got a live person on the phone who did some checking and informed me that only mine and one other house was off-line, so it was not considered and "outage" (meaning I was a low priority). He said all their technicians were committed for the morning, but if they could reach one of their off-duty techs in time, maybe he could come in early before his shift started. No promises, though, until the afternoon. I started to get that old sinking feeling, but went to bed hoping for the best. 

At 6 a.m. the sun was up, the coffee maker did its thing, I logged onto my computer and sure enough, to my amazement, up came the Internet. All was well. The Comcast truck was just leaving our neighborhood. 

I don’t know if it was the tree trimming, or the bludgeoning the utilities took from the press, the public and our local elected officials, or some combination of all of the above, but some real progress has been made here. Thank you. Am I the only one who’s noticed?

Will August 21, 2011 at 06:04 PM
We used to lose power about twice a month. It often happened on windless sunny days. I used to call my wife from work to tell her the power would be going out in 30 minutes anytime there was a storm at my work. Pepco replaced the lines in our neighborhood and trimmed some trees. We have not lost power once since then even during heavy storms. It shows it is a problem that can certainly be solved. We just have to keep the pressure on Pepco because they have made it clear they are not willing to do it on their own.
Frank August 21, 2011 at 07:12 PM
Now that you mention it, it does seem better. I don't remember any outages of more than a few minutes since the beginning of the year. I've noticed that they've done some very serious tree-trimming on several major roads - in particular on Connecticut Avenue between Rock Creek and Kensington, and Massachusetts Avenue north of Westmoreland Circle. On those roads there is as much as 10 feet between the power lines and the nearest tree branches.
Patch Reader August 21, 2011 at 08:01 PM
http://kensington.patch.com/articles/east-county-pepco-outages-concentrated-in-wheaton Just drove from Kensington to DT Silver Spring ... horrible due to lights out. We've had very few opportunities to see if the system is actually any more robust. Folks ... even the "severe" storms we get here are minor compared to a lot of the county ... yet Pepco severely lags in investing in what it takes the kind of performance that most of the country takes for granted,
ilkunta August 22, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Richard: You're being to generous. Pepco still has many winters and summers before they wlll be back in good graces with me. Also, how was it that a storm knocked out just yours and another house on the street? Is every1 else using FIOS?RCN?
Kristina Bostick August 25, 2011 at 02:53 PM
Agree with the frustrated comments above- Pepco seems to equate better service with cutting all the trees down in the more rural areas of the county- healthy ones on the opposite side of the road, ones that are the "wrong" species (a list that now encompasses most all native trees to our area.) all as reported in this fine publication. Pepco has to preform better, not just look busy clearing trees when in fact the lights go out most often on sunny, windless days.


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