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Pepco Better Than Most Area Utilities In Reliability

Fierce thunderstorms in July knocked out power to 120,000 D.C. and Maryland residents, renewing criticism of Pepco.
Fierce thunderstorms in July knocked out power to 120,000 D.C. and Maryland residents, renewing criticism of Pepco. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Ray Rivera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 27, 2005

After swift-moving thunderstorms knocked out power to 120,000 District and Maryland residents in July, Pepco customers and critics renewed questions about the utility's ability to deliver reliable service.

Even relatively minor storms seemed to knock Pepco for a loop, some consumers complained, let alone the severe winds and heavy rain, spawned by Hurricane Isabel, that swept through the region in September 2003. It took the company 10 days to fully restore electricity to more than a half-million customers after that storm.

But a review of outage data shows that Pepco's overall reliability compares favorably with other major utilities in the mid-Atlantic region.

The company, which serves 720,000 customers in the District and Montgomery and Prince George's counties, returns power to customers more quickly than all but one of 11 utilities surveyed by The Washington Post. Pepco customers also experience fewer sustained outages -- those lasting five minutes or longer -- than customers of all but four of the other companies.

In a separate measure, a look at three-year averages going back to 1998 shows steady improvement by Pepco. From 1998 to 2000, customers experienced, on average, 1.41 sustained outages a year, lasting a total of 120 minutes. Over the next three years, the frequency fell to 1.34 outages for 105 minutes. In 2004, the numbers were lower still: 1.22 outages lasting 96.6 minutes.

The analysis did not compare the utilities' responses to major storms because the industry does not have uniform standards for gauging such performance.

But the data do dispel the notion that Pepco performs poorly even in times of moderate rain, thunder and winds, and that service has deteriorated because of deregulation, according to industry analysts who reviewed The Post's findings.

"This kind of confirms that they've been making significant progress, especially since Hurricane Isabel," said Grant L. Davies, president of a Chevy Chase consulting group whose clients include several major utilities, including Pepco.

The analysis examined outages from 2000 through 2004 for the six major utilities serving the District and Maryland and power suppliers in Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The data were gathered from state and District regulators and the companies.

Industry experts caution against comparing utilities because of variations in weather, geography and data collection. But the power industry frequently undertakes just such comparisons, usually in blind studies that are seldom made public.

To compensate for the variables, The Post chose companies that collect similar data in the same geographic region, where the landscape and weather are likely to be comparable.

On the advice of several analysts, The Post excluded outages caused by major storms to give a more accurate picture of a utility's day-to-day performance. Maryland regulators define major storms as those affecting at least 10 percent of a utility's customers for 24 hours or more.

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