Maryland regulators push for speedier power recovery

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Photo - Della Stoloworth holds at sign that says "Numbers dont lie, Pepco does" at a meeting on the performance of Pepco's service following the storms that hit the Washington area on June 30th. Rockville Council office building. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Della Stoloworth holds at sign that says "Numbers dont lie, Pepco does" at a meeting on the performance of Pepco's service following the storms that hit the Washington area on June 30th. Rockville Council office building. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,Maryland,Ben Giles

BALTIMORE -- Maryland regulators blasted utility executives Thursday for not being able to get the power back on quickly, such as following the June derecho that left more than 1.7 million people across the region without power for as long as a week.

Douglas Nazarian, chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, asked the officials what it would take to get power back on 24 hours after a storm.

"Short of napalming every tree in the state and undergrounding and paving over every power line, what does that system look like?" Nazarian sarcastically asked utility executives.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. President and CEO Kenneth DeFontes Jr. said that even if the company could make basic performance improvements, the storm was simply unprecedented and too unexpected to deal with in just a day.

Rather than restoring power in eight days, the company could have gotten electricity back in five or six days at a minimum, he said.

Pepco executives are scheduled to testify Friday.

Power outages for that long are simply unacceptable to most Marylanders, Nazarian said, including residents who blasted BGE, Pepco and other utility companies at a series of hearings this summer.

If residents heard you give that answer, "a lot of people who were in the evening hearing rooms would be getting their pitchforks and starting to head for your office," Nazarian said.

A derecho, a mass of severe thunderstorms that contains strong, straight-line winds with gusts up to 90 miles per hour, swept through the Washington region late on June 29, leaving some residents without power for more than a week.

Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, is so frustrated by Pepco's performance in Maryland that he has asked county attorneys to re-examine the possibility of a public-owned power utility to replace the utility company.

Residents, local lawmakers and utility officials have fought over ways to improve the infrastructure of electrical distribution systems provided by Pepco and BGE in Maryland -- arguments for and against burying power lines and cutting down trees have bogged down the debate over what it would take to end weeklong power outages, Nazarian said.

bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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