In particular, the commission blamed Pepco’s tree-trimming practices for being ineffective and contributing to the power failures.
“Pepco offers myriad excuses for its performance, but we’re not buying,” the commission said in its order. “Pepco’s customers have paid a substantial price for Pepco’s neglect, measured not just by direct economic costs such as closures of businesses leading to lost wages and reduced tax revenue, but also by less tangible costs, including the physical discomfort.”
Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson said the company had not reviewed the order and declined to comment further. This year, Pepco officials acknowledged their reliability problems and announced a five-year, multimillion-dollar effort to improve.
The commission’s conclusions mirrored those of a 2010 analysis by The Washington Post, which found that Pepco ranks as one of the worst utility companies in the nation when it comes to keeping the power on and bringing it back once it goes out.
Though large, the fine represented a small percentage of the company’s revenue in a given year.
Last year, Pepco Holdings paid more than $240 million in dividends alone.
In the third quarter of this year, it took Pepco Holdings about a day and a half to earn $1 million, according to the company’s government filings.
The penalty is the most recent backlash against the utility, which delivers power to 778,000 customers in the District and neighboring parts of Maryland, including some of the most affluent communities and most important institutions in the nation.
Maryland legislators passed a bill in April that imposes a $25,000-a-day fine on electric utilities for each violation of reliability standards. In July, District regulators tightened performance standards for Pepco, threatening to fine the company unless it improves reliability within two years and matches the performance of the nation’s most dependable power providers within a decade.
The Maryland commission, which began its investigation in August 2010, ordered that Pepco file a detailed, five-year improvement plan that includes measures to improve communications and speed service restoration. The commission said additional fines could be on the way if the company fails to improve.
Consumer advocates praised the commission’s actions. “Pepco has not met its responsibilities to provide safe and reliable service, and must change its ways,” said Paula M. Carmody of the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel.