Preparedness group offers recommendations


A state task force appointed to examine Maryland utilities' storm preparedness released a package of recommendations yesterday that it said would speed recovery of telephone and electric service disrupted by major storms.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening appointed the 15-member Task Force to Ensure Utility Services in September after Hurricane Floyd caused major power outages. An ice storm in January had the same effect.

The task force offered 17 long-term solutions that largely centered on improving communication among the utilities, as well as between the utilities and state and local emergency management agencies.

"We learned that better information means better service," said Gene Lynch, task force chairman and the governor's deputy chief of staff. "Coordinating responses is critical."

The task force held nearly a dozen meetings, including two to receive public input. Members included local and state officials and representatives from the utilities and environmental, consumer and business groups.

The recommendations include automated telephone systems to give customers more accurate estimates of power restoration; tree trimming; and new technology to limit the effect of downed wires.

The task force also recommended that some electric wires be buried, starting with pilot projects in Annapolis, Ocean City and Garrett Park. Yesterday, Glendening added Elkton. "It's an expensive thing to do," said Lynch.

The report called for utilities to receive "timely recovery of all their costs of undergrounding," with regulators, energy officials and the Office of People's Counsel to determine how it should be done.

About $500,000 is needed to move a mile of overhead power lines underground. The state will pursue eliminating the "gross-up" tax, a federal tariff on underground projects that can add as much as 28 percent to the costs of burying wires, the report said.

The report is designed to expedite restoration of services, said Frederick H. Hoover Jr., director of the Maryland Energy Administration and a task force member.

Some recommendations can be accomplished by early fall, he said, but others will take longer.

"The governor ... wants to see these recommendations implemented," Lynch said.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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