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Letter: State senators offer misleading assertions in request for $100M fine of Pepco and BGE

1:52 PM EDT, July 24, 2012

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The July 19 issue of the Laurel Leader contained considerable grandstanding by District 21 Sen. Rosapepe and Sen. Frosh ("Senators call for $100M fines"); unfortunately it contained many misleading assertions.

Sen. Rosapepe stated that the PSC should fine the utility companies $100,000,000 based upon the days which customers were without power. However, note the in the 19 July issue of the Washington Post there was a long article about Montgomery County residents preventing the electric company from trimming trees. If you are going to fine the electric company $25,000 for a day the a customer is without power, fairness demands that you also fine anyone preventing the trimming of trees $25,000 per day that they impede trimming.

Every one of the recent outages was due to fallen trees. It would take the entire gross national product of the nation to put all of the wires underground, so that is never going to happen. Next people say, well let's at least put high priority lines below ground. First, who defines high priority? The answer always becomes, "Of course, the power lines to my house should be underground!" Second the power lines to my house really are underground to the substation. However, those power lines extend past my house for several miles. Trees further down the line shorted the wires and caused me to lose power. A short anywhere on the line can cause the entire line to lose power.

Rosapepe correctly pointed out that some of the maintenance problems are related when the Democrats deregulated the utilities, but he incorrectly described the root cause. When the utilities were deregulated they were forced to hold electric rates artificially low for 10 years. By state law the utilities are guaranteed a rate of return on investment. Therefore, when the rates were held low, maintenance was necessarily let to slide to pay the other bills. Only emergency maintenance was performed. Therefore lack of preventive maintenance was the fault of the state government and not the fault of the utility companies. If you don't want the utilities to make a profit, change the law and drive them out of business.

For Rosapepe to suggested training volunteer electricians to help restore power during emergencies shows a total lack of understanding of electricity and its dangers. Firefighting is a dangerous profession, but it is easier to train someone to fight a fire they can see than electricity which they can't. When a firefighter dies it is unusual enough that it is reported in the paper and there is a big funeral. The death of electricians happen so often that it is ignored in the press, unless there is a spectacular fire. The IEEE, NFPA, NEC and OSHA each set training and safety requirements workers on high voltage lines must learn and follow.

I am not a licensed electrician and I do not work for the electric company. I have published research in the electrical safety area for 32 years and am presently a member of the IEEE-NFPA committee working to protect electrical workers from arc flash hazards.

Bruce Land

Laurel