Power companies defend restoration efforts amid criticism

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Local,Maryland,Rachel Baye

Officials from the local power companies on Wednesday defended efforts to restore power to the hundreds of thousands without it last week as local officials ramped up their criticism.

"I fully understand and can appreciate that from the customer's perspective, being out of service for in some cases over a week is not an acceptable situation, but I would say that we responded quickly," Pepco Region President Thomas Graham told WTOP.

Though Pepco had expected to have 90 percent of customers' power back by July 6 at 11 p.m. -- a week after the storm hit on June 29 -- the company got it back two days earlier than that, he said.

Paying for no power
Some Pepco and BGE customers could end up paying for the first 24 hours of the power they didn't have last week.
A small fee, called "bill stabilization," is charged to customers to make sure the utilities earn the amount of revenue approved by Maryland and D.C.'s public service commissions. On months when customers use a lot of energy -- like when it's hot outside -- they earn a credit. When they use less energy, they pay a fee.
With power outages like last week's, customers pay for the first 24 hours of no power. But since the outage happened during an abnormally hot month, the fee will likely take the form of a smaller credit than customers otherwise would have received.

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. also restored power to 90 percent of customers by July 4, according to spokeswoman Rachael Lighty. Dominion Virginia Power restored nearly 90 percent of its customers' power by July 3 at 4 p.m., and 95 percent of Northern Virginia customers by July 4 at 4 p.m., said spokeswoman Le-Ha Anderson.

But elected officials continued to criticize the companies, saying the efforts weren't enough.

"I bet in our region we may have experienced up and close to a billion-dollar [economic loss] in this nine-day power outage," Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner said at a meeting of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

On Tuesday, elected leaders of Maryland's seven largest jurisdictions signed a letter urging the state Public Service Commission to investigate storm responses by BGE and Pepco. The group, which included Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker, questioned whether the electric companies had sufficient staff and what steps need to be taken to improve infrastructure.

Graham and other company executives said they pulled out all the stops to get the power back on quickly.

Pepco had 3,000 people working on the restoration effort -- 2,000 working on power lines, of which 800 came from out of state, and 1,000 in support roles, such as talking to customers, government officials and the media, said spokesman Bob Hainey.

By comparison, BGE had 4,700 people working, including 1,800 from out of state, Lighty said. Of the 2,900 BGE employees and local contractors, most were working on power lines, rather than in an office, though Lighty wouldn't specify how many.

Dominion had 5,400 people working on restoration, including 4,900 in the field and 1,800 from out of state, Anderson said.

Bringing in extra crews is expensive, Hainey said. "You have to put them up. You have to feed them. And they're working these long hours. This is not free help."

Whether the companies can charge customers for the restoration effort is up to the states' regulatory agencies.

Staff Writer Liz Essley contributed to this report.

rbaye@washingtonexaminer.com

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Rachel Baye

Staff Writer - Education
The Washington Examiner