Legislation before the County Council would require utilities to obtain written consent from property owners or occupants before trimming back trees on private property, to submit a "vegetation management" plan -- including aspects not required by the state -- to the county and to abide by specific tree-trimming standards.
The legislation "restores the correct balance" between protecting private property and allowing utilities to do what is necessary to provide quality service, said sponsor and Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda. "I don't believe anybody should be able to go onto private property and do what they think is necessary to do without the homeowner's consent."
Berliner also pointed to elements in the bill that allow Pepco, with the consent of the county, to override residents' wishes when a tree needs to come down for the sake of service.
But even with this safeguard, the bill poses a potential risk to service and a potential cost to customers statewide, said Douglas Nazarian, chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission, the state's utility regulator.
"I continue to be concerned that having another layer of regulatory scrutiny and accountability that really just overlaps with ours is only going to complicate things and make them more expensive and less certain," he said Wednesday.
New regulations the Public Service Commission established to make sure Maryland residents have reliable electric service took effect Monday. Those rules resulted largely from Montgomery residents' complaints about frequent Pepco outages during winter and summer storms in 2009 and 2010.
If meeting those requirements and any Montgomery County establishes becomes too difficult, Pepco could fail to meet them, facing state penalties, or pass onto all Maryland customers the increased cost, Nazarian said.
Pepco declined to comment before the council's public hearing, scheduled for June 12.