His counterpart in the District, Public Service Commission Chairman Betty Ann Kane, said Pepco’s dismal reliability record met the District’s formal performance requirements until regulations were stiffened last summer.
Their comments came as tens of thousands of Pepco customers endured their fourth day of outages after a fast-moving, powerful storm walloped the region late Friday and initially left more than a million people without power in record-breaking heat. Both regulators declined to say how Pepco was performing in the current outage, stressing that they would wait until more details were available. As of 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, about 85,000 Pepco customers were without power.
Pepco’s reliability began declining about seven years ago, leaving the utility near the bottom among the nation’s electric companies for keeping the lights on and bringing them back once they go out.
Maryland regulators should have realized sooner that Pepco’s performance had been seriously lacking and should have moved more quickly to force the company to improve dependability, Nazarian said. He said he has undergone a learning process since being appointed to the commission five years ago.
“It is fair to say we did not have a sense that Pepco stacked up that poorly with other companies,” he said. “The focus we’ve had the last couple of years on reliability is driven by what we’ve learned and observed.”
Kane said her board also has decided that Pepco should be held to a higher standard in coming years.
The regulators spoke in interviews amid swelling public anger at Pepco, 387,000 of whose customers lost power in the immediate aftermath of the storm.
Pepco, which delivers power to 778,000 customers in the District and neighboring parts of Maryland, in recent years has ranked at or near the bottom in the United States in terms of reliability, a 2010 Washington Post investigation found. Pepco customers experienced an average of 70 percent more outages than customers of other big city utilities.
The newspaper’s analysis found that the power went out more often in Maryland than in the District. And once out, the lights tended to stay off longer.
It was not always that way. Pepco’s performance was closer to industry averages until a sudden slump in 2005. By 2009, Pepco had fallen into the bottom 25 percent of U.S. energy utility companies in customer satisfaction.
Internal company reports show that from 2005 through 2008, spending on tree trimming and other vegetation management at Pepco and its sister power companies remained “relatively stagnant or decreased.” Over that same period, one internal report pointedly notes, reliability “worsened.”