PSC Launches Pepco Investigation

The Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC) is launching an investigation into the reliability and quality of the electric distribution service of Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco) following a slew of complaints from Maryland customers after the July 25, August 5 and August 12 power outages.

At press time, a legislative-type hearing was set for August 17, according to a PSC order issued on August 12. The proceeding was scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. in the commission’s sixth floor hearing room at 6 Saint Paul Street in Baltimore.

According to the PSC’s order, Pepco is directed to have the company’s chief operating officer, senior officers for reliability and construction and maintenance, senior officers for storm restoration, senior officers for customer service and customer communications and any other appropriate representatives who can provide substantive responses to the PSC’s inquiries.

The commission said it is necessary to hold an immediate hearing on the company’s reliability “because of the frequency, number and duration of the power outages experienced by customers in the Pepco service area and the apparent breakdown of adequate communication between the company and its customers.”

Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner said he is “gratified” to know the PSC is responding so quickly to the County Council’s request for an investigation.

“The commission appears to recognize that the poor quality of service we have been getting is simply not acceptable,” said Berliner. “It is time for action, and the commission’s order is a welcome first step in that direction.”

A week after the Montgomery County Council called for an investigation, along with an earlier request by County Executive Ike Leggett, the city of Gaithersburg’s Mayor and City Council also called for an investigation in a letter sent to the PSC on August 5.

In that three-page letter addressed to PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian, Gaithersburg’s elected leaders asked the PSC to investigate what they describe as “Potomac Electric Power Company’s inability to provide reliable electric service to our residents.”

City leaders also rejected Pepco’s explanation for the power outages that followed a severe thunderstorm on July 25.

“Pepco claims that a main reason for the widespread outages is the large tree canopy near most of the local power infrastructure,” wrote Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz and the five City Council members. “We cannot accept this explanation. Neighboring jurisdictions have extensive tree canopies as well and do not experience the same prolonged power outages.”

Communication remains another key concern for city officials.

“It is imperative that Pepco have the capability to provide timely and accurate information to its customers and to coordinate this information with the local governments who represent them,” said the leaders.

City officials are also asking the PSC to find out why Pepco is unable “to provide a valid reason why certain city neighborhoods lose power more frequently and for longer periods of time.

“The PSC should require Pepco to examine what deficiencies may exist in the lines that provide electricity to these homes and businesses, and then promptly develop and implement a plan to identify and, to the extent possible, strengthen the weak points in those distribution lines.”

City officials said they hoped to meet with Pepco’s senior managers as well to improve their working relationship and “generally avoid this scenario again and again.”

The District 17 delegation and Governor Martin O’Malley also wrote letters to the PSC calling for an investigation of Pepco’s reliability.