But those efforts have been controversial, lauded by some residents as long overdue and loathed by others who fear the loss of natural beauty and damage to the environment.
Government leaders in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the District said in interviews that their constituents are largely pleased Pepco is working on improving reliability. But some residents remain concerned about how aggressively Pepco is pruning, trimming and removing mature trees near their homes.
“They set it up as a choice: power or trees?” said Darian Unger, a Silver Spring resident whose neighborhood has lost multiple trees at the hands of Pepco contractors in recent weeks. “But it’s a false choice.”
Interviews with elected officials in all three jurisdictions show that the volume of resident complaints has been lower in Prince George’s and the District, where Pepco contractors have done less pruning than in Montgomery.
Pepco declined to reveal the exact number of trees the company has removed in the past year.
“They fell way behind on tree trimming, and it wasn’t going to be pretty when they tried to catch up,” said Montgomery County Council member Hans Riemer (D-At Large), who lives on a block where Pepco has trimmed and removed trees. “Not only that, but they’re trying to trim now to a point where it would last longer. So I wasn’t expecting that it would be pretty, but at the same time I have heard concerns from arborists that it’s been sloppy at times or excessive.”
Pepco reports that its contractors have pruned and, in some cases, cut down trees along more than 3,400 miles of power lines in Montgomery, Prince George’s and the District since December 2010.
The intent of all the trimming and cutting, Pepco officials say, is improved reliability.
“We take very seriously our responsibilities for environmental stewardship,” said Jerry Pasternak, Pepco’s vice president of government affairs in Maryland. “We also realize that there has to be a balance between vegetation management and the environment and natural landscape.
“In the end, our primary responsibility is to provide safe and reliable electric service to our customers, and while we strive to maintain that balance, if we are faced with that choice, we have to provide safe and reliable service. That is our mandate, that is our obligation, and that’s what people expect from us.”
Pepco’s tree trimming represents a concerted effort to bolster its image after a two-year period during which the company felt a backlash because of insufficient service to its 778,000 customers. A Washington Post analysis in 2010 found that Pepco ranked as one of the worst utility companies in the nation when it came to keeping the power on and restoring it after it went out.