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BGE reaches out to Roland Park in postmortem on derecho storm

Mary Pat Clarke

Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. representatives said Thursday, Oct. 4 they are formulating a plan to address complaints of constant power outages on several streets in Roland Park, not just during the June 29 derecho storm, but long before and after it.

BGE officials told the Roland Park Civic League they are reviewing options ranging from enhanced tree trimming to replacing overhead lines with underground cable, and could have a plan in place as early as November.

"We estimate in four to six weeks we should be able to come up with a solution," said Stuart Page, an engineer in BGE's customer reliability and support group.

Most of the community's focus is on more than 50 homes on Beechdale, Edgevale and Elmwood roads that residents say often lose power even in nice weather and for no apparent reason.

Kathleen Truelove, who lives on Elmwood, said she has endured four to six outages since this past spring, including eight days without electricity after the storm.

"All of a sudden, it's been horrible," said Truelove, former head of Roland Park Roads and Maintenance. "It's beyond frustrating."

Truelove was one of about 40 people who turned out for the long-planned meeting that was billed as an opportunity for BGE to present information concerning the reliability and maintenance of greater Roland Park's electrical infrastructure and to field questions from the community.

"It's for them to fix," she said.

But residents of Beechdale, Elmwood and Edgevale were not the only ones complaining at the meeting.

Charlie Palmer, of the 200 block of Club Road, said his power has gone out at least once a month for the past six years.

"Ours goes out just as much as Beechdale does. There's no reason for it," Palmer said.

There were also complaints from residents of Indian Lane and Merrymount Road.

Sally Foster, of Edgevale Road, said she is frustrated by the seeming randomness of the outages on her street.

"What's not so much fun is that across the street, it's lit up like a Christmas tree," Foster said.

Michael Garzon, supervisor of customer reliability for BGE, said even houses on the same street might be served by different lines as BGE tries to balance out the electrical system.

"We can't have everybody on the same line, otherwise it would overbalance the system," Garzon said.

Trees on lines are a big problem, BGE officials and residents agreed. One resident said she doesn't think trees near her lines have ever been pruned.

"There was definitely a lot of tree damage during the storm and that's one of the challenges facing us," Page said.

Linda Foy, manager of local affairs in BGE's governmental affairs department, said that she and City Councilwoman Sharon Greene Middleton will meet soon to talk about area tree trimming.

"A lot of the infrastructure that's been put in place has been hampered by trees," Garzon said. He and Page showed statistics that since 2009, 51 percent of outages in the greater Roland Park area have been caused by trees; 33 percent were due to wind and rain; 7 percent were lightning-related; and the rest were caused by equipment issues and "unknown causes."

Garzon suggested that squirrels eating through insulation could be a factor, but a chorus of "No" went up from the audience.

Garzon and Page said BGE took steps even before the storm to upgrade infrastructure in the area, including in Hadley Square and on Chancery and Suffolk roads in Guilford, and on Kenmore Road and Melrose Avenue in Roland Park. They said BGE is also rebuilding its aging Mount Washington substation, one of two that serve the area. The other is on West Cold Spring Road at Interstate 83.

Complaints of lack of communication

But City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said even with improvements, houses on Chancery and Suffolk were among the last in her district to get their electricity restored after the storm.

The Baltimore City Council's Housing and Community Development Committee, of which Clarke is a member, held a hearing Sept. 19 that served as postmortem on responses to the storm by BGE and the Baltimore City Mayor's Office of Emergency Management.

Clarke, who called for the hearing, expressed displeasure at a BGE chart showing that Baltimore City lagged behind the rest of BGE's service area for several days in the percentage of residents that got their power restored.

Most of the complaints at the hearing focused on the lack of a reliable priority list for BGE and a lack of communication between BGE and communities, especially in Roland Park, Hampden and other communities hardest hit by the storm.

City Arborist Erik Dihle said at the hearing that he would like to have better communication with BGE.

Garzon told the Roland Park audience that BGE is "solely dependent" on its customers to report outages. Foy said the utility company, which serves 1.2 million customers, is working on a new web-based power outage reporting system.

Phil Spevak, president of the Roland Park Civic League, urged BGE to resolve issues as soon as possible because residents considered the meeting Thursday as "an intermediate step to a solution."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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