The lack of reliable electric power has become the No.1 quality-of-life issue in the county and the June 29 storm and resulting outages are proof that Pepco hasn’t been doing its job, according to Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) in a Montgomery County Council debriefing on Pepco’s response to the storm.
But the utility is making strides with fewer outages and shorter recovery times since 2010, said Pepco Region President Thomas Graham. Pepco has been implementing a five-year reliability plan, which includes managing trees near wires, upgrading feeders and burying some power lines.
The June 29 storm was unpredicted and no utility company with overhead wires could have recovered quickly, Graham said. There were more than 200 wires down, 242 poles replaced and 214 transformers replaced, according to Pepco statistics.
Still, both state and county legislators were not convinced.
“You’ve been happy to send checks to shareholders and let the infrastructure rot,” Councilman Mark Elrich (D-At Large) said of Pepco.
A large fine should be imposed on Pepco and the money should be used to train retired utility workers to work on Pepco’s infrastructure and equipment, State Sen. Brian Frosh (D-Dist. 18) said.
"We need people right here that can do this work so we don’t have to wait for them to be brought in," Frosh said.
Councilman Hans Reimer (D-At Large) took issue with Pepco’s performance in comparison to other utility companies.
“There are trees and bad weather in many jurisdictions and those people have power,” Reimer said. “The problem is Pepco’s set of values. It values its shareholders and its executives."
Reimer noted that Pepco CEO Joseph Rigby was not at the meeting to face the criticism.
Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Dist. 8) was not at the meeting, but issued a report that also studied how Pepco performed comparatively.
Although Dominion had more than double the number of outages as Pepco at the start of the restoration effort on the evening of June 29, the number of Pepco and Dominion customers without power was almost equal by July 2, according to the report.
Van Hollen also called for the Maryland Public Service Commission to reject Pepco’s pending request for a 4 percent rate increase.
The next step is hearing from residents. There will be eight public hearings across the state, including one in Montgomery County on Aug. 7.