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Montgomery County: Pepco doesn't have enough crews to restore power quickly

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Pepco does not have enough crews to keep up with the frequent power outages in Montgomery County, the county's Office of Consumer Protection said Monday in a filing with the Maryland Public Service Commission.

The filing criticizes Pepco's performance following the June 29 derecho, when it took Pepco more than a week to restore power to all of the 450,000 customers who lost their electricity.

The length of power outages like those after the derecho could be lessened if the company hired more staff, wrote Lisa Brennan, an investigator with the county Office of Consumer Protection. "The number of Pepco's internal crews is wholly inappropriate to manage the scale of outages that have become a routine occurrence in Montgomery County."

She pointed to agreements that allow Pepco to bring in outside crews after a storm. These agreements have not proven effective at helping Pepco restore power quickly, she said. While Dominion Virginia power reached its peak staffing within 48 hours of the storm, it took Pepco nearly twice as long to reach the same peak staffing.

The storm also forced Montgomery County and Prince George's County residents to limit their water use because Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission water treatment plants had no power.

"We were hours away from not being able to respond to a fire because we would not have had water sufficient in the system to put out a fire," Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner, D-Bethesda, told reporters Monday.

As Pepco began to restore power for the first groups of customers, it also should have updated estimates of when the remaining customers would get their power back, Brennan wrote. "There were numerous incidents where customers were provided information that their power was restored when it was not."

Pepco officials said they would discuss their response at a Maryland Public Service Commission hearing later this week.

AARP Consumer Affairs Consultant Barbara Alexander, in a similar filing Monday, agreed with the county. "Obviously customers want power to be restored promptly, but even more importantly, they typically want to know the status of their own power restoration."

The comments come on the heels of a storm Saturday that cost 65,000 Washington area residents and businesses their power. Though the storm was not nearly as severe as the June derecho, business owners have been flooding county lawmakers with complaints that losing power on a potentially busy weekend costs thousands of dollars.

"I just got off the phone with a restaurant owner who over the course of the weekend lost $10,000 in projected revenue because his restaurant was closed," Berliner said. "Not because of the storm, but because Pepco did not fix [the transformer] properly. ... So many people in the business community are so upset at time and time again losing power."

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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