Panel: Montgomery's electricity crisis continues
Utility says it has been responding to concerns
Montgomery County's struggle for quality electrical service is not over, according to at least one member of a panel that studied the issue.
"Montgomery County is still in the middle of a crisis," said Keith Haller, a member of a panel assembled by County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) to study Pepco.
Despite the group's work, Haller said Pepco has largely ignored the panel's recommendations and is committed to conducting business as usual, with few improvements to its infrastructure or communication.
The utility was described as being defensive when confronted with data showing that it provides subpar service. The utility, however, says it is still reviewing the report and takes its recommendations seriously.
Haller said that during storms Montgomery County still is likely to experience more power outages for longer periods of time than any other jurisdiction in the nation.
Haller's outlook comes after the release in April of a 192-page report from the Pepco Working Group that included 30 recommendations for the utility to improve its electrical service, including the adoption of a multiyear plan for system inspection, maintenance and enhancement and more investment in modernizing infrastructure.
The study showed that Pepco, the primary electric service provider in Montgomery County, is the worst in the region. Its performance, the report states, has steadily declined since 2004.
The 12-member county task force was led by Norman Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin.
The group met beginning in October and included a survey of Pepco customers in its research.
However, several members of the group said that in the wake of the report the utility has chosen to focus on tree-trimming efforts near power lines and to request additional information on data used by the working group.
"The work group provided a very comprehensive report with several recommendations to Pepco and other entities. The company has sought clarification with respect to some of the report's conclusions and methodologies in an effort to gain a better understanding of the results and to determine whether specific recommendations can be implemented," Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said in a statement.
The company continues to work with the county to improve its service and is reviewing the panel's report, Anderson said.
Attorneys representing Pepco submitted three pages of data requests May 19 from the working group, which county officials said sought to enter the report as evidence as part of a pending inquiry into Pepco's reliability by the Maryland Public Service Commission, the body that regulates the state's utilities.
In the request, Pepco seeks further explanation for the findings, along with additional documentation.
However, the county government and Pepco have agreed that the report should be used as supplemental comments to remarks submitted by Leggett.
The report was shared with the PSC on May 5.
The Maryland General Assembly approved legislation this year that will allow the PSC to more closely regulate Pepco, which the county task force said is badly needed.
"They really know they need to make some changes and adjustments," Leggett said, referring to Pepco. "I think that (Pepco's service) is clearly subpar based on all of the reasonable standards. I don't think that Pepco denied that it wasn't. I think they may have just asked for some justification."
Leggett said that the focus for the county is on ensuring that Pepco makes long-term fixes and does not take shortsighted actions based on the report.
So far, Michal Freedhoff, a member of the task force, said much of the company's response has centered around tree trimming.
"Pepco focuses on this in order to not focus on anything else," Freedhoff said. "They have not said a word about anything else specific in the report."
When Council Vice President Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac said Pepco had been unresponsive to the county's concerns over its service, Pepco regional President Thomas H. Graham responded by saying he sent letters to Berliner in March and April asking to convene a hearing on vegetation management.
At the time, Graham said that in hundreds of instances since Pepco stepped up its tree trimming in the past year, Montgomery property owners have stopped, delayed or limited their plans to clear branches from power lines.
Berliner said he has requested information from Graham regarding its tree trimming, but is still awaiting answers.
Berliner, who has led the council's inquiry into Pepco's reliability, said the utility is seeking greater legal authority to trim trees on private property.
"In an environment in which Pepco has failed our community, the notion of giving them greater authority on private property without any showing of precedent or need is not going to happen," Berliner said.