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SCHOOL DELAYS

BGE asks commission to dismiss Howard power outages complaint

In response to an official complaint about power reliability filed with the Maryland Public Service Commission earlier this year by Howard County residents,Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. told the regulatory agency Friday that its services in the county are more reliable than in other parts of the state and don't warrant an investigation.

It also said the PSC should entirely dismiss the complaint, which was filed by Dunloggin resident Cathy Eshmont as a petition signed by more than 300 residents. The petition alleged that power outages in the area are in part due to BGE negligence and lack of system maintenance.

Power reliability in Howard County has become a hot-button issue in recent months, largely thanks to Eshmont, who filed the complaint on behalf of the "executive committee" of the Facebook group Reliability4HOCO, which she founded and uses to organize residents who have experienced outages and blips.

Based on the complaints, BGE has held multiple community meetings and upgraded its system with new equipment.

Those efforts show a good faith effort on BGE's part to address concerns and are one reason an investigation is unwarranted, BGE spokesman Rob Gould said.

"We disagree with the suggestion that there are chronic reliability problems in the communities that are listed," Gould said of the complaint. "Our perspective is we've been open and transparent, we're continuing our work with residents in the area and elected officials in the area, we've shared our data freely, and I would call it a collaborative effort."

The PSC, which regulates public utility companies in the state and conducts investigations when warranted, wrote to BGE on Feb. 28 requiring the company to "satisfy or answer" the complaint by March 30.

In its response, BGE says it identified 13 communities in Howard County represented by customers who had signed the petition and reviewed reliability data for those communities.

On average, BGE wrote, those communities "experienced fewer outages than the BGE system average."

Eshmont herself, who has filed previous complaints, "has not experienced a sustained outage since April 28, 2011 — not even as a result of Hurricane Irene" last year, the utility wrote.

"Contrary to the assertions made in the Complaint, BGE's efforts have been timely, transparent and inclusive," wrote Carmina Perez-Fowler, an attorney for the utility company, in the 16-page written response.

"Not only has BGE embraced the communities in its efforts, it has also implemented or is planning to implement, numerous reliability initiatives," she wrote.

For those reasons, and because "many outages have resulted from events beyond BGE's control," including severe weather and "foreign objects coming into contact with our overhead lines," the entire complaint should be dismissed, Perez-Fowler wrote.

The PSC will review BGE's response against the claims in the complaint and determine whether an investigation is warranted, according to a PSC spokeswoman.

The time frame for that review is unclear.

In an email, Eshmont criticized BGE's response and the PSC's treatment of the petition she filed.

"Why provide a provision under Maryland law for a petition process to trigger an investigation if the PSC can decide to change the investigation into a complaint with a delay of 30 days for BGE to prepare a request to dismiss?," Eshmont wrote.

Eshmont said her previous complaint about power problems in Dunloggin, for which she had requested further review after the PSC's Office of External Relations had concluded BGE was "continually working to provide reliable service" in her community, also should not have been tied to the petition complaint.

"Everything is all wrapped up with bows, and ready for more business as usual," Eshmont wrote.

In a posting on BGE's response to the PSC on the Reliability4HOCO Facebook page, Eshmont wrote, "BGE's recent past behavior suggests a company more concerned with raking in the revenues, including the line upkeep fees on everybody's bills, than with expenditures to ensure customers' reliability."

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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