Impending storms could slow power restoration

Photo - Kyle Hartic of Alexandria cleans up after the storm, which caused massive damage and knocked out 911 phone lines. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Kyle Hartic of Alexandria cleans up after the storm, which caused massive damage and knocked out 911 phone lines. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner)
Local,DC,Rachel Baye,Alan Blinder

Storms predicted to hit the Washington region this week could slow down electric companies' efforts to restore thousands of residents' power, company officials say.

The National Weather Service predicts scattered thunderstorms throughout the week, with the strongest storms expected to hit Tuesday and Wednesday. Should the storms materialize, they will hit a region already ravaged by Friday night's derecho -- a storm with fierce, straight-line winds -- that destroyed homes and cut power to 1.5 million in the Washington area alone.

As of Sunday night, more than 851,000 people still lacked power.

New storms could impede efforts to restore power, warned Robert Gould, spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

If Pepco customers who now have power lose it in the coming days as a result of new storms, they will get added to the company's already lengthy to-do list, said Pepco Region President Thomas Graham. Priority goes to facilities like hospitals, water pumping stations and electric substations.

"It's all a function of how much damage we experience," Graham said. "We're essentially rebuilding our infrastructure, and for it to be destroyed again would be frustrating."

As of Sunday night, 332,948 Pepco customers in the District and Prince George's and Montgomery counties still were without power, though about 110,000 had their power restored. Meanwhile, 245,578 Dominion Virginia Power customers in Northern Virginia and 272,740 BGE customers in Maryland were still in the dark.

Dominion Virginia Power expects to have power back for between 90 and 95 percent of customers by Thursday night.

Even without new storms, Graham said he could not promise power would be restored to 90 percent of the 443,000 Pepco customers who lost it by Friday at 11 p.m.

Pepco, BGE and Dominion all warn it could be well into the coming weekend before everyone is restored.

Of the three, Pepco is restoring electricity at the slowest rate. While Dominion Virginia Power had turned lights back on for about 51 percent of the roughly 500,000 Northern Virginia customers who lost power and BGE had restored 55 percent of the 615,000 customers who lost it, Pepco had restored power to only about 25 percent of the total 443,000 customers who lost it.

Local elected officials were not happy with the results.

"We're making progress, but still not at a level that I find acceptable," said Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett, especially "when we're dealing with people in 100-degree heat-plus humidity."

One senior D.C. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, complained that Pepco's D.C. customers were taking a back seat to those in Montgomery County.

"We would be much farther ahead if it was up to us," he said. "There's some question of how Pepco is divvying up its resources."

But Graham denied any favoritism. "Our restoration process is based on need and ... damage to the system."

Staff Writer Alan Blinder contributed to this report.

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