Pepco service compared to Third World countries at PSC hearing
Lawmakers draft state bill setting standards and linking rates to service
More than 250 people gathered Monday night to tell the Maryland Public Service Commission they are fed up with Montgomery County's electricity service, which some compared to conditions in Third World countries.
The hearing in Rockville was part of the state regulatory agency's investigation into Pepco's service following widespread complaints over frequent outages.
The investigation began Aug. 12, and another public hearing is scheduled for Thursday in Prince George's County.
The investigation stems from a July storm that left more than 200,000 residents without power many for several days.
For the past two years, Pepco has been in the bottom 50 percent or 25 percent nationwide of utilities in terms of service interruptions, said Bill Gausman, the utility's senior vice president for asset management and planning, during a hearing earlier this month before the Public Service Commission in Baltimore.
Del. Karen S. Montgomery (D-Dist. 14) of Brookeville said her friends in Tibet have asked her, "Is America becoming a Third World country?"
"I hope not," she told the commission Monday.
House Majority Leader Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Dist. 17) of Gaithersburg said his relatives in Mumbai, India say they have fewer power outages than residents of Gaithersburg.
Montgomery County Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Potomac was one of 24 elected officials to speak Monday, consuming more than two hours of the hearing.
Some 90 others were signed up to speak, but many left before they were called.
Berliner said he has helped draft state legislation with Del. Brian J. Feldman (D-Dist. 15) of Potomac that would link Pepco collections from ratepayers with the level of service the company provides.
"Today we do not have any state standards by which to judge Pepco's performance," Berliner told the commission. "You have not said to Pepco, here is the standard of reliability we expect you to meet. If we have no state standard, it is difficult, if not impossible, to hold Pepco accountable when the lights go out."
Richard Reynolds, 75, and his wife, Shirley, 73, of Kensington, said their power had been out four times in the past eight months, with the outages ranging from just a few hours to six days.
"It's a consistent problem," Shirley Reynolds said. "By the fourth time you should have figured out how to fix the problem."
Like other residents, the Reynolds say they had to throw out everything in their refrigerators an expense that John Howley, of Silver Spring, says Pepco should pay.
"Order Pepco to give $100 to residents when power is out for six hours (or more) to replace groceries," Howley told the commission.