- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 16, 2003

BALTIMORE (AP) — The Maryland Public Service Commission has called on power providers to improve communications, better manage outages and bury some lines underground as it investigates how utilities responded to Hurricane Isabel.

Isabel, which struck the East Coast in mid-September, was among the worst storms to hit Maryland in at least 50 years. It left more than a million Marylanders without electricity, some for more than a week.

The utilities were criticized for the time it took to restore power.

They defended their performance, saying planning, improved technology and assistance from hundreds of out-of-state crews helped repair the damage under extraordinary circumstances.

“We’re very pleased with our performance,” said Robert Gould, a spokesman for Constellation Energy Group, which represents Baltimore Gas & Electric. He said BGE called in 3,100 extra workers before Isabel made landfall.

“They were in place and ready to roll,” Mr. Gould told commission members yesterday, the last day of the two-day hearing in Baltimore.

Commissioner Harold D. Williams said yesterday that he was less concerned about how the utility companies had performed and more concerned about what they had learned.

“I believe the people bent over backwards to understand what the utilities had to go through,” Mr. Williams said. “But I don’t feel the utilities have tried to understand what consumers went through.”

In the first day of the hearing, commissioners questioned officials from Potomac Electric Power Co. (Pepco) and Allegheny Power Inc. about spending on transmission system maintenance, tree trimming and pre-mobilization of repair crews.

The utilities were required to file reports in October with the commission, assessing their storm performance. The hearing is to give commissioners a chance to question company officials and hear from the public before issuing any orders.

“Every one of the utilities should be able to take away significant lessons learned,” commission Chairman Kenneth D. Schisler said after the daylong hearing Monday.

In a report filed in response to the utilities’ storm reports, the commission’s engineering staff recommended that a working group be formed to develop a way to bury portions of the electric system for protection from storms.

The commission staff also made recommendations for specific utilities, including directing Pepco and its sister company, Conectiv, to improve outage management systems, increasing the number of calls they can handle and information they track during a severe storm. Pepco said Monday that it has started working on such an upgrade.

Pepco President William J. Sim faced questioning Monday regarding spending on maintenance, including tree trimming, since the state’s electric-deregulation law was passed in 1999.

Three-fourths of Pepco’s 720,000 customers, primarily in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and in the District, lost power during Isabel. Power lines knocked out by tree limbs and uprooted trees caused most of the outages.

Commissioner J. Joseph Curran III asked Mr. Sim whether deregulation has caused the company to cut back on maintenance.

“We’ve spent more money on transmission over the last five years,” Mr. Sim said. “Restructuring has nothing to do with restoration time.”

Mr. Sim said the utility had installed a high-volume call-answering system, a new outage-management system and global positioning systems in its trucks. He noted that Pepco called in crews from Detroit before the storm hit, allowing the company to meet its goal of restoring nearly all service within eight days.

“Despite that, many of our customers were not satisfied,” Mr. Sim said. “Any time you don’t have power for more than 48 hours, patience wears thin.”

• Staff writer Judith Person contributed to this report.


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