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Pikesville man sues BGE for $1 billion over power outages

Ralph Jaffe, a perennial candidate for governor, said he is suing Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. for $1 billion over a power outage response he called illegally slow.

Jaffe said his Pikesville home lost power during the Feb. 5 ice storm and remained out for two days, which he alleges in his suit is a violation of the state's Electricity Service Quality and Reliability Act. He said BGE paid for far too few crews to work on the problem.

"The people have to know that the real reason why they suffer is that BGE lowballs the number of crews that they make available, and they take that money saved from the restoration responsibilities and give it to the stockholders," said Jaffe, a volunteer teacher who is running as a Democrat in the state gubernatorial race.

The complaint does not yet show up in the state judiciary's online system. Jaffe — a BGE critic who unsuccessfully sued the utility in 2012 — said he mailed it to the Baltimore City Circuit Court Thursday. He provided a copy to The Baltimore Sun Friday.

BGE said it could not comment on pending litigation. BGE spokeswoman Rachael Lighty said the utility would file a report about its response to the storm — as required — to Maryland regulators.

The early February outages left 182,000 people without electricity. Jaffe said BGE should have more than doubled the 1,700 workers, contractors and out-of-state crews it mobilized for repairs, noting that a crew was able to get the lights back on in his neighborhood in under two hours once on the scene.

His outage, starting on a Wednesday and ending that Friday, wasn't the worst of the lot.

"Some didn't get power back until Sunday," Jaffe said.

Ellen Smith, a senior managing director at FTI Consulting who analyzes aspects of electricity market design and performance, said customers suing U.S. utilities after outages face a tough battle.

"The hurdles on those lawsuits are very high — utilities have tariff protection against liability," she said.

Jaffe said he has an attorney advising him but is handling the case himself. If he does win, he said, any money the court awards "will all be distributed to the poor."

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