- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 26, 2004

Electric-utility executives said yesterday that a General Assembly bill that would require them to reimburse customers for power outages will cost the industry hundreds of millions of dollars that they will attempt to recoup with higher fees.

The proposed Senate bill requiring Potomac Electric Power Co. and other Maryland electric companies to reimburse customers also prohibits the utilities from passing on the cost to customers.

Utility executives said in response that such a provision is unconstitutional and would likely face a court challenge.

Sen. Leonard H. Teitelbaum, Montgomery Democrat, drafted the bill in response to long-lasting power outages after Hurricane Isabel pounded the East Coast in September. A record 1.3 million Maryland customers lost power and thousands remained in the dark for a week or more.

The outages forced some residents to live by candlelight or spend hundreds of dollars on generators, if they could find one. Those who lived without power also lived without showers and home-cooked meals. Many residents had to throw away food stored in refrigerators and freezers. They also became frustrated because downed power lines blocked sidewalks and roads more than a week after the storm.

Pepco, which serves the District and parts of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, had to restore power to more than 75 percent of its customers after the storm.

The outages further annoyed customers who went without electricity for days following a series of severe thunderstorms in late August.

“I can’t believe this,” Reba Ferris of Montgomery County said after Isabel. “It’s been eight days. It’s not so bad during the day with the sun, but at night it’s not much fun. Now they’re telling us by the end of the weekend.”

The Senate bill states that residential customers who lost power for more than 24 hours would be eligible for a maximum $200 reimbursement for spoiled food. Businesses would receive as much as $100 for each day they did not have electricity. The payouts would have to be approved by the Public Service Commission, which regulates the utilities.

“Isabel changed the focus from the utilities to the people,” Mr. Teitelbaum said yesterday before the Senate Finance Committee began debating the bill. “A lot of people lost a lot.”

Mr. Teitelbaum, a committee member, has six co-sponsors for the bill, including fellow committee member Sen. Lisa A. Gladden, Baltimore City Democrat.

Utility company executives and Public Service Commission officials strongly opposed the bill and their testimony went unchallenged by committee members who seemed unlikely to vote in support of the bill. Mr. Teitelbaum also asked commission officials to help amend the bill.

Baltimore Gas and Electric executives testified the utility spent $69 million to restore power after Isabel and passed off none of the cost to customers. They also said that mandatory reimbursement would cost them more than $150 million.

Mr. Teitelbaum presented the only testimony in support of his bill.

Sen. Thomas M. Middleton, Charles Democrat and committee chairman, suggested that the court might be a better avenue for customers.

“You could get a class-action suit to collect damages for those outages.” he said.

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