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Number of Howard residents claiming BGE unreliable still growing

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They came as individual residents, business owners and representatives of small communities, all bearing similar stories of numerous, unexplainable power outages with which they got no help from their utility, BGE.

And though they left with no clear-cut answers or promises that their power problems would be solved, they learned they are not alone.

"I didn't realize it was all over the county. We thought it was just us," North Laurel resident Elizabeth Wilkinsin said about the outage problems she and the 23 other households on River Oak Court have experienced.

"I think this past Saturday was the most recent one," she said. "It was a beautiful day. No expectation (the power would go out) at all."

Wilkinson was one of about 20 residents, many representing larger groups, testifying at the County Council's Tuesday public hearing in support of Ellicott City Democrat Courtney Watson's resolution to ask the Maryland Public Service Commission, the state agency responsible for regulating public utilities, to investigate chronic power outages in certain areas of Howard County.

"I've been without power over 21 days in the last two years," said Bob Smith, a resident of Amherst Avenue, in Columbia. He said the 22 houses experiencing problems in his neighborhood are always low on BGE's list for service.

Smith said the outages were particularly difficult on his late wife when she was alive because she was on an oxygen machine.

"BGE doesn't care," he said. "They only respond to threats to their wallet."

Larry Meshlin, who lives on Crows Foot Road, in Marriottsville, said the 60 households in his community have experiences similar to the others. However, he said they face additional difficulties since they are on well and septic systems that operate on electric pumps.

"The only reason I think the room isn't filled is because there are probably a lot of people that didn't know this (hearing) was going on," Meshlin said.

The number of neighborhoods identified for experiencing multiple, irregular power outages has only grown as word about Watson's legislation and an earlier petition effort has spread.

By the time it is brought up for a vote on Oct. 1, the resolution is expected to include a list of more than 100 streets throughout Howard County where power reliability needs to be investigated. If passed, it would be the first such request from a legislative body to the PSC.

The areas mentioned in the resolution will be in addition to several Ellicott City and Columbia neighborhoods already being investigated by the PSC.

The current investigation started after Reliability4HOCO, a group of county residents frustrated with the multiple power outages they have experienced in recent years, filed a complaint with the PSC in February.

Watson said the outage problems in neighborhoods mentioned in the resolution, cosponsored by Columbia Democrats Calvin Ball and Jen Terrasa, came to light after Reliability4HOCO filed its petition. She said she filed the legislation so the group would not have to go through the petition process again and to encourage neighborhoods not reporting their problems to make them known.

"I'm glad that they're coming forward and I am a little bit surprised by the number of streets," Watson said.

Jim Mundy, a resident of Grosvenor Drive in Ellicott City, said his neighborhood has had outage problems for 26 years but didn't bring them to Watson's attention or ask for help until last September.

"My neighbors and I have suffered in silence all these years," he said.

It was just three years ago that Angela Tersiguel and her husband purchased their home on The Oaks Road in Ellicott City.

"Since Jan. 1 of 2011 through July 5 of 2012, our home has experienced 22 outages," Tersiguel said.

The couple, which owns Tersiguel's restaurant on Main Street in Ellicott City, has also experienced multiple power outages at their business, though fewer than at their home.

"I will say as a business, BGE was more responsive but not very forthcoming," Tersiguel said. "Anyone who has a small business knows that time is money."

Kristy Mumma, who owns Stuart Technologies Inc., a company located on Deepage Drive in Columbia that helps other small businesses solve technology problems, knows all about the monetary effect.

"When the power is out, productivity is down to almost nil but our labor costs continue, (and) we are losing revenue when our staff can't work," Mumma said. She cited spending $8,000 to pay employees for time they were prevented from working during six power outages over the course of five months.

Several of the speakers took jabs at BGE, saying the utility company should be more accountable and proactive.

"BGE needs to improve its management practices and learn that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," said Mary Lou Boris, whose family has had chronic outages for decades at their home on Whitegate Road.

No one from BGE or the PSC spoke at the hearing, but BGE spokesman Rob Gould attended.

In a emailed statement Wednesday, Gould said: "BGE appreciates the concerns expressed by some Howard County residents. The fact is most Howard County customers experience reliable electric service, though we acknowledge there are certain communities within the county where our customers’ expectations have not been met. Since 2010, BGE has worked diligently with these communities to enhance reliability through strategic tree trimming, selective undergrounding, overhead line enhancements and other improvements."

 

In addition to investigating the chronic outages, the resolution asks that the PSC require BGE to provide the county with detailed outage information, including addresses of affected residences, for places where power has not been restored within 24 hours after an outage. Watson said this provision is aimed at making sure county emergency operations teams can get resources to people who are without power for long periods of time.

The council is scheduled to vote on the resolution Oct. 1 in the George Howard Building in Ellicott City. The council is asking neighborhoods that want to be included in the investigation to email addresses and a summary of outage history to councilmail@howardcountymd.gov.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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