- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The organization that monitors power companies in Maryland on Wednesday set a deadline for utilities to submit their plans to improve service and avoid future weather-related disasters.

The 33-page order issued by Maryland’s Public Service Commission directs the power companies to be “more responsive to outages that occur after severe storms and more resilient to weather-related outage events.”

While the commission does not impose any fines, it does direct the ultilites to submit a report on improvements to its communication systems by the end of March and a five-year plan to improve reliability by May 31.

The order is the culmination of nearly eight months of complaints, meetings, hearings, and studies, all prompted by the June 29 derecho storm, which packed 60 mph winds and heavy rain. The rare wind storm knocked out power to more than 1 million people. Nearly half of those outages were Pepco customers in the District and Prince George’s and Montgomery counties.

Adding insult to injury, the week after the storm brought temperatures that hovered near 100 degrees, leaving residents sweltering in their dark homes and food rotting in warm refrigerators.

A spokeswoman for Pepco said Wednesday that the utility was still reviewing the report and would likely issue a reaction on Thursday.

In July, the Montgomery County council heard testimony from utility and public service commission representatives and shared their own critiques on the slow recovery. At the beginning of the year the council sent a letter to Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, asking him to make sure the Public Service Commission remained “focused firmly on the goal of this important matter — namely, improving the reliability of the electric power grid for Maryland.”

The general consensus on Wednesday from several council members was that the commission’s order was “good news.”

“It demonstrates that state regulators are not backing off their new and more aggressive posture towards Pepco,” council member Hans Riemer said.

Council member Roger Berliner admitted that while he could be a strong critic of the commission, “you have to give credit where credit is due.”

“The commission is really beginning to understand that reliability must get better and faster beyond what they already put in place,” Mr. Berliner said. “They realize it’s an old system, they realize improvements have to happen faster and our needs are not being met.”

Council member Nancy Floreen said the order was progress, but she was concerned about how the commission would evaluate all the information it receives.

“You can get all the data in the world, but if you don’t know what it means, you just got a lot of data,” she said.”

Della Stolsworth, president of the Luxmanor Citizens Association, attended the July hearing with some of her neighbors, all of whom had lived without power for five days.

“That was part of the reliability and performance numbers [Pepco] paraded. They only considered certain events major ones,” Ms. Stolsworth said. “I think it’s an improvement that they’re asking to look at outages for all major events. If we’re sitting in the dark, we don’t care what type of event it is.”