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THE 3-MINUTE INTERVIEW: Eric Hensal

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Hensal is founder of Public Power for Montgomery County, which aims to end the area's notoriously long blackouts by converting Pepco to a publicly owned electric grid. He lives in Takoma Park.

How long was your power out in this summer's derecho storm?

Mine was out about four and a half days. But people here in Takoma Park, not too far away, were without power longer.

Why did you take up this cause?

I was campaigning during the derecho storm (for Takoma Park City Council), and going door to door, and people didn't have electricity. When the campaign was over, there was something there that I thought should continue, because I knew people were interested and it was a pressing issue. I thought we should move forward with something.

How would a publicly owned utility reduce outages?

Once you have local control, you can set the priorities the way the community wants to set them. What the community wants right now is for electricity not to go out in blue skies for no reason. They want the ability to recover from a storm in less than seven days.

How can a public utility function better than Pepco?

With local control, you don't have to make investors happy. You are not paying a dividend. Their job is just to make sure the electric lines work. With local control, there is better emphasis on maintenance and you get better reliability than an investor-owned utility.

How would the county take over the power lines from Pepco?

You first have to have authority in the government's charter to specifically allow it to operate a public utility, and that would have to happen in a countywide vote. Then you would have to go to the Public Service Commission and make the case for the franchise. The fun part would be the government would have to negotiate with Pepco to buy the power lines from them.

- Susan Ferrechio

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