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Lawmakers slam Pepco for poststorm performance

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

State, local and even federal lawmakers blasted Pepco and its Maryland regulators for its shoddy performance restoring power after the June 29 storm and for putting the electric company's profits before customers' needs.

"I want you to know that there is such a disconnect between your company's perception of how it is doing and how our people perceive how you are doing," Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, told Pepco Region President Thomas Graham. "It is unfathomable to me that you say you want to listen to your customers. If you want to listen to your customers, read these emails [my office has received] because they are fairly explicit as to your failings, and you need to know that people have totally lost confidence ..."

The derecho storm, which features straight-line winds, knocked out power to 483,639 Pepco customers, more than the amount who lost power during any storm since "Snowmageddon" in February 2010, according to Pepco. It took eight days to restore power to all Pepco customers, longer than after any storm since Snowmageddon.

Pepco restored power at a slower rate than fellow local utilities Baltimore Gas and Electric or Dominion, according to an analysis by U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

Graham defended his company's efforts to a packed council meeting room, pointing to the 1,200 workers that the company paid to come from the western U.S. and Canada, and to the improvements Pepco has been making, like replacing cables and trimming trees.

"There is no overhead electric distribution system that can withstand damage from this sort of hurricane-force event," said Pepco Holdings Executive Vice President of Power Delivery David Velazquez.

But lawmakers didn't buy it.

"You've been very happy to send checks to shareholders and let the system basically rot," said Councilman Marc Elrich, D-at large. "When you say you're out there investing $997 million, I appreciate that, but that's our money. ... So it's really nice to know that you're actually putting some of what we give you into the infrastructure that we give you the money to maintain."

Pepco customers have been without power for 35 days during the past 29 months, according to the company's data. While the company gets to recover the revenue lost in the first 24 hours of an outage, residents and businesses are out millions, maybe billions of dollars, said Councilwoman Nancy Floreen, D-at large.

Several lawmakers, including Van Hollen and state Sen. Brian Frosh, D-Bethesda, said the state should eliminate the measure that allows electric companies to recoup the revenues lost during the first 24 hours of an outage. Gov. Martin O'Malley called for a review of the policy.

The Maryland Public Service Commission, which is in charge of regulating utilities, hasn't been enforcing its regulations enough, lawmakers said.

But the regulations that took effect in the spring haven't been given a chance to work, said PSC Chairman Doug Nazarian.

The commission is scheduled to rule Friday on Pepco's request for a $68 million -- or 4 percent -- rate increase. Nazarian would not comment on the decision Thursday.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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