Pepco customers can learn from experience of Exelon customers who use BGE

April 30

A number of current and former Baltimore Gas and Electric customers are satisfied with the reliability of their service, providing hope that the recent purchase of Pepco by Exelon, BGE’s parent company, will improve utility service in the District and its Maryland suburbs.

Baltimore City resident Meg Fielding said she has not had any issues with BGE in the last few years, though her neighbors lost power for a few days during the destructive derecho storm in 2012.

“It was an unexpected storm with no time to prepare and a lot of damage, so they did as well as they could,” Fielding, 55, said. “However, if I’d lost power, I might have felt differently.”

Fielding added, “They did a lot better job than Pepco did.”

Greg Schuckman, an Ellicott City area resident, also said he has not had any service disruptions in the past two years, “impressive given the wide outages that were reported throughout the region during the heavy snowfall this winter,” Schuckman said.

In 2012, Exelon purchased a handful of utilities, including BGE in the Baltimore area, as part of its acquisition of Constellation Energy. A number of BGE customers who experienced the handover to Exelon did not notice any changes in service, according to interviews with The Washington Post.

Baltimore City resident Jonathan Nosrati said that with the exception of an infrastructure failure that left him with no gas for a week, he was “very satisfied” in the last two years he has been a BGE customer.

“Living in the heart of Baltimore, they’ve been good about maintaining the flow of power and informing me about planned outages,” Nosrati, 26, said. “While it’s a common occurrence to see their trucks blocking streets as they make repairs, I’ve not had a single unscheduled electric outage.”

Customers in Pepco’s service area also could see a benefit from the larger and more widespread set of repairs teams available to Exelon.

In the past after large storm-related outages, Pepco has been faulted by local officials and customers for not quickly summoning sizable repair crews from other utilities or through contractors.

Pepco has sister companies in Atlantic City and Delmarva, but those areas often fall victim to the same storm patterns as the District and Maryland and need to keep their crews in place. Pepco executives have said that these constraints set it apart from the likes of Dominion Power ,which serves Northern Virginia but can also draw on its own crews out of North Carolina, an area often unscathed by the storms that hit the Washington area.

Exelon’s president, Crane said that Exelon would be able to marshal more forces to deal with storm response, noting that the company had drawn from its own employees and contractors in Chicago and Baltimore to address a storm in Philadelphia.

Customers served by Pepco in the past were hopeful that the purchase by Exelon would improve service.

Gabe Jacobsohn, a freshman at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, was happy to hear about the sale. His family in Rockville, Md., dealt with Pepco outages during Hurricane Isabel in 2003 and the derecho in 2012, both of which left the home without power for days.

“We were kind of expecting to lose power every time,” Jacobsohn, 18, said.“If there’s a storm, Pepco’s not going to have power for it.”

Jacobsohn said he hopes Exelon will invest more in trimming trees around power lines to prevent outages during storms.

But Richard Bryne, who has been a customer of both Pepco and BGE, said he’s not sure the change will bring better customer service in regards to billing. He said he had particularly bad customer service the year he lived in Baltimore and had BGE as his utility. When he moved back to the District in early January, he said it took four months to get his security deposit back from BGE.

“I never dealt with an organization where keeping the security deposit was the default” until he was a BGE customer, said Bryne, a 48-year-old Mount Pleasant resident.

He said Pepco is often better at being “forgiving” in its billing, which is a “trade-off” for the company’s lack of reliability.

Switching to Exelon “will be a bigger change than people think for consumers,” Bryne said.

Aside from impressions from customers, it is difficult to isolate the effect of Exelon’s purchase of BGE on customer service and reliability. The sale occurred amid other acts by the state legislature and regulators to improve service, said Paula Carmody, head of the Office of People’s Counsel for Maryland, an independent state agency representing consumer interests in state and federal regulatory proceedings.

The sale was one factor “but sitting here right now, I don’t think there is a way to answer the question of what impact it alone had. It is tough to say what can be attributed solely to the acquisition, positively or negatively,” said Carmody.

As the sale was proceeding, the Maryland legislature in 2011 passed a bill to raise performance standards on electrical companies. The legislation was driven by widespread complaints, mainly from Pepco customers, about a series of outages that left residents in the dark or cold for days after major storms.

Because the bill applied to all utilities that operated in Maryland, included BGE, Carmody said it is hard to isolate the effect the Exelon purchase had on the utility’s reliability.

The state regulatory review that will take place over the proposed Pepco sale offers a chance for Maryland utility regulators to delve more deeply and with greater precision into how Exelon’s handling of its Maryland operations has affected customers, Carmody said, “so I see that as an opportunity.”

Mary Pat Flaherty works on investigative and long-range stories. Her work has won numerous national awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local