Md. agency, union join in seeking to hold utilities to standards; They testify at hearing on storm power outages; Power companies


Reacting to the the power outages caused by Hurricane Floyd, a union representing utility workers joined the Office of the Maryland People's Counsel yesterday in urging uniform reliability standards for the state's power companies.

Yesterday concluded two days of hearings before the state Public Service Commission on the utilities' emergency preparedness in light of the lengthy power outages from the hurricane. The commissioners are to report their findings and recommendations to Gov. Parris N. Glendening on Dec. 1.

The governor ordered an investigation of the utilities because of the widespread utility outages from Floyd. About 504,000 customers of the Baltimore Gas and Electric Company lost power from the storm in September, some for as long as eight days. The company has 1.1 million customers in the Baltimore area.

Officials from BGE and the state's other power utilities -- Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco), Allegheny Power and Conectiv Inc. -- opposed uniform reliability standards during the first day of hearings Thursday.

Officials of the people's counsel, which represents the public before the PSC, and other state agencies testified yesterday along with representatives of Local 1900 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Jim Hunter, president of the union local and one of 17 members of the governor's utility task force, said states such as Texas and Wisconsin have reliability standards. "There have been substantial job reductions at BGE, and that has resulted in longer restoration times," he said. "We're pushing for reliability standards so when the utilities don't meet them, they would be forced to hire more workers."

IBEW Local 1900, which represents Pepco workers, is seeking another election aimed at organizing BGE workers. The union's two previous organizing bids at BGE failed.

Stephen F. Wood, BGE's vice president of electric transmission and distribution, told the commission Thursday that uniform reliability standards are "dangerous" because differences among the state's utilities would make it too complicated to impose them.

Sandra Guthorn, deputy people's counsel, said her office would like to see discussions aimed at working out the standards.

The uniform standards are also advocated by the Hurricane Floyd Power Outage Petition Group, a group of BGE customers that was formed after many of its members went without power for four days, said John J. Mullen, the Ellicott City resident who chairs the group.

"The oversight responsibility of the Public Service Commission dictates that there should be reliability standards," Mullen said yesterday. "Other state commissions have recognized the need for them."

His group has collected 150 signatures on a petition expressing outrage over the outages.

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