- The Washington Times - Monday, October 20, 2003

The power companies that restored electricity to 1.4 million area customers after Hurricane Isabel described their performance as “appropriate” and “timely and efficient” in reports filed yesterday with D.C. and Maryland officials.

“Baltimore Gas & Electric made significant preparations in advance and in anticipation of Hurricane Isabels arrival that greatly improved BG&Es; ability to restore customer service in a timely and efficient manner,” company officials said in a 40-page report to the Maryland Public Service Commission.

Maryland and the District had set yesterday as the deadline for the reports.

Company officials also said they fulfilled a promise made shortly after the storm hit Sept. 18 that they would restore power within eight days to the roughly 650,000 people who lost power and had no significant flood damage.

A similar, 69-page report filed by Potomac Electric Power Co. with the D.C. Public Service Commission states the company did an adequate job restoring power to roughly 545,000 customers, including 374,000 in the District, though the hurricane was the worst weather event in company history. The company said 76 percent of its customers were without power.

“The restoration performance for Hurricane Isabel is nearly the same as in previous storms, though the number of customers out of service was almost twice in any other storm,” company officials said in the reports executive summary.

However, company officials acknowledged “there are still lessons to be learned” and said they could not submit a definitive report three weeks after such a major outage.

Pepco executives also said the report shows the company had “appropriate operational standards and procedures that are within or better than the industry means.”

However, they said the companys outage-management system “did not support restoration as intended” and that software problems were being fixed.

They also said that “some customers were dissatisfied with the length of outages.”

Indeed, some around the metropolitan area were furious after spending more than a week without electricity.

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 refrigerators and freezers worth of food.

They also became frustrated because downed power lines blocked sidewalks and roads more than a week after the storm.

Many said their biggest complaint was not knowing when power would be restored.

“My biggest beef is that nobody will tell me anything,” Southeast resident Margaret Dixon said five days after the storm. “We call Pepco and just hear a recording.”

Both companies acknowledged that a series of storms that swept through the region just weeks before Isabel caused significant damage and strained services but offered lessons about restoring power after high-wind events.

The companies also said that finding power-restoration crews in the mid-Atlantic was impossible, forcing them to seek assistance from outside the region. BGE used roughly 33 outside agencies, including ones from as far away as Arizona, Colorado and Canada.

Chrys Wilson of the Maryland Public Service Commission said the report will now be given to the five commissioners and to senior staffers and technical experts.

The review will be followed by hearings in which utility executives and other interested parties can testify and answer questions. No dates have been set.

Miss Wilson said the commission can impose a penalty if it decides a utility made mistakes in preparing and responding to the hurricane.

BGE mobilized the largest work force in its nearly 200-year history. There were 3,100 workers on 350 crews. Before restoration was completed, about 6,400 workers, including 3,000 from 27 states and Canada, took part in the effort.

Crews replaced 444 poles, 33,665 fuses and more than 100 miles of wire. The imported crews consumed 12,000 meals and occupied 1,700 hotel rooms per day. The company also distributed 350,000 pounds of dry ice to customers without electricity.

Isabel also raised water in Baltimore Harbor seven feet above normal tides, eclipsing a record set by a hurricane in August 1933, according to BGEs report.

That flooding caused problems to the underground system in Baltimore and Annapolis, and hampered repair work.

The company estimates restoration costs at $81 million, including cleanup and permanent repairs.

Isabel swept through the region with high winds and rain Sept. 18. On that day, the company received roughly 256,000 customer calls. At least 79 percent of those calls were answered, according to the report. The company processed more than 712,000 calls during the eight days.

Pepco has begun a study to determine the practicality of running power lines and other electric facilities underground, where they would be safe from downed trees. Underground power lines are more expensive to install and maintain, and the study may also examine where underground lines are needed most.

Pepco also reviewed its tree-trimming process after Isabel toppled trees onto power lines, transformers and feeders.

Pepco executives also said they will likely upgrade their answering system to better handle customer calls about outages or other services. Some customers complained about the answering service. When Isabel struck, nearly 153,000 customers called Pepco.

Virginia officials have not requested a report from Virginia Dominion Power Company, which had to restore electricity to 1.8 million customers. The State Corporation Commission will instead compile a report that will include information from the utility and from seven public hearings in which customers will discuss their outage problems with company officials.

The hearing for Northern Virginia is scheduled for Oct. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Fairfax County Government Center.

Commission spokesman Kenneth J. Schrad said the report would be completed in “several months.” He also said the commission could make recommendations for more severe responses depending upon its findings. However, Mr. Schrad said he does not recall the commission issuing fines in recent history.

A Dominion Power spokesman said the utility would also compile an internal evaluation, but that no formal document would be issued.

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