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One-fourth of BGE customers had at least three outages in 2012

Hurricane Sandy (2012)Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

A quarter of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. customers had three or more outages last year, a rough stretch that included the damaging derecho windstorm and Superstorm Sandy.

BGE's annual breakdown of its performance, released by the company Tuesday, attributed nearly half of the 2012 customer outages to those two major storms. But slightly more had other causes, including smaller storms, equipment failure and cars running into poles.

BGE attributed 1 in 4 of the outages to equipment problems, a category that could include some failures during bad weather. More of those problems hit the overhead system than underground lines, but underground equipment issues did cause about 250,000 outages, the utility said.

All told, BGE last year logged nearly 2.4 million outages — interruptions in power of at least five minutes. That's about twice as many outages as customers, which shows that some homes and businesses were out several times.

This was BGE's first annual performance report since state regulators in May set benchmarks for utility reliability in Maryland, including outages and tree trimming. The rules were spurred by concerns about service in Pepco's suburban Washington territory.

Robert L. Gould, BGE's spokesman, said the utility believes it met all the safety and reliability standards for the year. That benchmark exempts outages from large-scale events, so the effects of the derecho and Sandy aren't included.

"We achieved some considerable progress in less than a year," Gould said, referring to reliability work performed after the rules were instituted. "Now that we'll have a full year to be able to work these metrics, we know we can achieve more."

The report pegs spending on vegetation management at $28.6 million last year. Gould said that doesn't account for the substantial tree work done in the aftermath of the two major storms, which brings the total to about the same amount as in 2011 ($34.5 million).

BGE said its vegetation management budget is $43.5 million this year, a substantial increase.

Linda Spencer, an Ellicott City customer, was glad to hear that. She said her neighborhood has reliability problems, which she attributes to overhead wires running through heavily wooded areas.

In addition to aggressive tree trimming, she would like to see more of the lines buried underground, where they're safer during storms.

"It really creates problems for the neighborhood — you can just imagine how disruptive it is to be without power for extended periods of time," said Spencer, whose home was out during both big storms last year. "We kind of get used to it over here, and I know several of the neighbors have bought generators."

Utilities generally balk at massive underground projects, citing cost. But BGE says it is burying lines in select cases, including part of Ellicott City.

Gould said greater tree trimming and removal also make a difference. Such work in Pikesville helps explain why portions of the community, without power at least five days after the derecho, had electricity flowing just a day after Sandy, he said.

BGE's report also touched on customer communications, where the utility did not meet one benchmark: customers abandoning calls to its system. Almost 7 percent of calls were abandoned from late May through December, above the state's benchmark of 5 percent or less.

BGE said its shift to a new customer system last year contributed to the problem, but added that it has seen improvements since hiring more people and making other changes.

Maryland's Public Service Commission said it will review utilities' reports and decide whether action is necessary.

jhopkins@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jsmithhopkins

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