- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 31, 2012

People on both sides of the power lines agree the derecho storm that barreled through the Washington area in late June brought wicked weather, the likes of which have never been experienced in the region.

But that’s where the similar impressions end between Pepco and its users. An event report published this week by Pepco lauds the company’s own ability to react quickly in the face of unprecedented damage, a far cry from the scathing criticism from homeowners and local leaders who were resigned to darkened homes during a week of storm cleanup.

According to the 134-page document, Pepco “was within the restoration guidelines and plans” laid out in thecompany’s pre-existing response and crisis management steps.

“With the advance planning undertaken to prepare for heat related outages and to ensure sufficient staffing for possible weekend thunderstorms and the July 4th holiday, and with the increased complement of linemen on site … Pepco’s adherence to its storm restoration plan allowed the Company to marshal considerable amounts of resources as ‘quickly as permitted’ given the facts and circumstances of this storm.”

The report is just one step in a line of procedures the company must take following a major storm. The large document was presented to the Maryland Public Service Commission on Monday. The commission weighs the report, along with public testimony, in making its final determination about the utility company’s performance — and whether any fines or repercussions should be applied.

Citing Pepco’s “longer history of substandard performance,” the commission denied a requested 4 percent rate increase for the utility company. Just a 1.7 percent boost — solely for the company to comply with new state mandates and regulations — was approved.

The utility issued a similar report to the D.C. Public Service Commission. According to numbers from Pepco, the peak outage for D.C. Pepco customers was nearly 76,000 the day after the storm.

D.C. Council members discussed the possibility of putting electrical lines underground, but not before they got in their own jabs about the company’s performance. Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat, called Pepco’s work in cleaning up after the storm, “not an admirable approach on their part.”

The storm, which hit the Pepco service area around 10:15 p.m. June 29, knocked out power to nearly 500,000 Pepco customers, 85 percent of whom were Maryland residents. The derecho, linked to at least 30 deaths nationwide, knocked down thousands of trees and left triple-digit temperatures in its wake, which compounded the ordeal of residents deprived of working refrigerators and air conditioning.

According to the Pepco report, only 75 percent of customers had their power restoredwithin five days — nearly 18,000 residents spent the July 4 evening in the dark.

The company set an estimated time of restoration for 90 percent of its customers by July 6, but beat that estimate by two days. Service to the last customer affected by the storm was restored July 8, nine days after the powerful storm, called a derecho.

Despite the company’s opinion that it “mobilized quickly” to call additional employees and contractors to help with the storm cleanup, state Sen. James C. Rosapepe, a Democrat who represents Prince George’s County, criticized the company’s positive self-assessment. He called the report an effort to “dodge accountability simply by asserting that whatever it did was as ‘quickly’ as possible. Obviously that’s not true.”

Mr. Rosapepe was one of two Maryland lawmakers who proposed a $100 million fine for the utility company as punishment for the lengthy repair time and to help fund a reserve of utility workers in times of emergency.

Sen. Brian Frosh, a Montgomery County Democrat who jointly proposed the fine, said the thick report was “a good book about their excuses.”

“The simple fact is, they failed to do an adequate job,” said Mr. Frosh, who lives in a neighborhood that was without power for five days. “I get it was a big storm, so one day, two days, I get that. But five days, that’s not reasonable. They did not provide reliable service, did not restore service fast enough. I think they neglected their infrastructure.”

Pepco has heard little but criticism since the destructive storm.

Two weeks ago, the Montgomery County Council lambasted Pepco’s storm response during an hours-long hearing.

Council member Marc Elrich told Pepco leaders “you’ve let your infrastructure go to hell,” while council member Hans Riemer suggested that the problem with Pepco’s service was the company’s misguided values.

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