"Disappointing" is how District 21 state Sen. James Rosapepe, who represents Laurel, described the Public Service Commission's assessment of regional utility companies' response to the derecho storm that hit the area at the end of June.
In an order released Feb. 27, the PSC found some fault with the area utility companies' response to the June 29 storm — which left more than a million residents without power, many for several days — but it did not issue the stiff fines that Rosapepe wanted.
Rosapepe and Montgomery County Sen. Brian Frosh, who are both Democrats, had called for each of the area's utilities to be fined $100 million, in addition to being required to place power lines underground and have more trained, reserve technicians available in the event of a major outage.
"The derecho report continues the PSC's failure to hold BGE and Pepco (the area's two largest utilities) accountable for their failure to keep the lights on," Rosapepe said. "Last summer, people lost food, couldn't work because they didn't have power in their offices and part of Route 1 was shut down for a week because of no power."
The derecho produced high winds that at the storm's peak, left 77 percent of Pepco's customers without power and 35 percent of BGE's customers in the dark. Thousands of residents still had no electricity five days or more after the storm.
In its order, the PSC found the area's utility companies were slow in getting power restored to customers and provided inadequate estimations to residents of when service would be restored, a concern especially for residents with medical issues.
The commissioners ordered utility companies to improve communications with customers with regular updates and their best information of when residents can expect power to be restored.
The utilities will have to provide the PSC with reports by March 29 on how they have improved their communications systems since the storm and, by May 31, submit reports on other planned improvements over the next five years along with completion dates for the improvements.
The utilities will also be required to conduct studies on what infrastructure and operational investments are needed to reduce service interruptions during major outages. The studies are to include an analysis of the utilities' staffing preparedness for events that result in a widespread power outage, and outline time frames for quickly restoring electricity to 95 percent of customers following large service disruptions.
Rosapepe was not impressed.
"Just more studies, by the utilities themselves. How disappointing," Rosapepe said. "The PSC knows the utilities are not prepared and to order studies by them is more talk than substance. We (the Maryland General Assembly) gave them (the PSC) the power to impose substantial fines but the PSC didn't order that."
PSC officials declined to comment on why the fine recommendations, and others recommendations Rosapepe and Frosh sent to the commission in a July letter, were not acted upon. Rosapepe said he hopes the studies the utilities will have to conduct will lead to improved service during power disruptions. In the meantime, he said he will continue to push for fines, underground cables and trained reserves who can be called into service at a moment's notice.
"I'm going to keep on this because the PSC's response was not acceptable," Rosapepe said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun