Outages linger and anger at Pepco grows

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Photo - D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, and his chief of staff, Chris Murphy, visit the Emergency Operations Center on Monday. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner photo)
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray, and his chief of staff, Chris Murphy, visit the Emergency Operations Center on Monday. (Graeme Jennings/Examiner photo)
Local,DC,Maryland,Virginia,Alan Blinder

Pepco was the target of growing fury Monday as more than 200,000 of the utility's customers endured their third full day without electricity in the wake of Friday's fast-moving storm that ravaged power systems and forced millions to suffer through an unforgiving heat wave without air conditioning.

"They need to move faster," D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray said. "Pepco's pace at restoring power, to me anyway, is unacceptable, and the speed of their response has been disappointing."

The much-maligned company came under fire for its estimate that it would take until Friday for 90 percent of people to be able to turn on the lights again. As of late Monday, less than half of Pepco's customers who lost power had seen it restored.

Foul forecast
The National Weather Service predicted the District and the surrounding areas could see new rounds of thunderstorms Tuesday and Wednesday. Temperatures are expected to remain in the mid-90s before climbing to near 100 on Friday.
Then and now
Local Pepco outages on Friday: 443,114
Local Pepco outages on Monday: 227,564
Percentage restored: 49 percent
Local Dominion outages on Friday: 540,000
Local Dominion outages on Monday: 151,000
Percentage restored: 72 percent

Fourth fireworks
The National Park Service says its Fourth of July celebration on the Mall will go forward as planned, a decision D.C. leaders said they supported. Montgomery County officials, though, said their display was canceled.

"We have to acknowledge the perception that people rightly have that there are not enough crews out there," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley said Monday. "None of us can be satisfied until every home is restored."

O'Malley's comments were more diplomatic and less colorful that his observation Sunday that "nobody will have their foot further up Pepco's backside" than him if the pace of power restoration continued to lag.

Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett also complained about the possibility of delays through Friday.

"That is not sufficient for me," Leggett said.

Gray, who suggested the District might begin exploring options to install underground power lines, O'Malley and Leggett were hardly the first politicians to slam the utility giant in what has become a regional political pastime.

"How many times have we been through this before?" Gray asked Monday.

The answer: a lot. By 2011, Maryland authorities had grown so frustrated that they slapped a $1 million fine on the company.

Gray declined to elaborate about what penalties Pepco might face for the latest round of outages, but he vowed "consequences."

Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said the company, which is seeking rate increases in both the District and Maryland, was focused on customers and would navigate the political fallout later.

"We think it's a bit premature to judge the restoration effort in the midst of the restoration," Anderson said.

But Pepco, named in 2011 as the nation's most-hated company, wasn't just taking criticism from politicians. Its customers were fuming, too.

"I've heard the news but am not sure how much effort they're putting in," said Rockville resident Romina Aramburu. "The fact of the matter is they should plan ahead and do whatever they have to do to make sure this doesn't happen again."

As Pepco struggled to win public favor, Dominion Power, which provides electricity to much of Virginia, reported about 151,000 customers in Northern Virginia were still experiencing outages -- meaning the company had restored power to more than 70 percent of its customers that had lost power in the Virginia suburbs of D.C. Part of Pepco's problems, the company said, stemmed from the scale of the storm that marched across the United States from the Midwest, a path that left destruction in many of the areas where Pepco's emergency partners operate.

Although Dominion, which has separate mutual aid agreements, was able to corral more than 1,000 workers, Pepco hasn't hit the milestone of 400 outside workers. It anticipates meeting that mark sometime Tuesday. Dominion's progress, which a spokesman characterized as "good," could lead to more trouble for Pepco later, a top official warned.

"Clearly, people will be looking at how quickly they restored power compared to other utilities," said Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner. "Part of the anger that my constituents feel is that it just never ends in terms of their lack of reliability."

Examiner Staff Writers Rachel Baye, Steve Contorno, Jacob Demmitt, Liz Essley, Liz Farmer, Hayley Peterson and Kytja Weir contributed to this report.

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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