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Md. commission proposes new power-outage standards for Pepco, other companies

Pepco officials held a "press availability" Monday to discuss its "reliability enhancement plan" developed after numerous, lengthy outages during and after storms this year.
Chart tracking Pepco power outages.
SOURCE: Pepco | The Washington Post - December 5, 2010
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 14, 2011; 12:00 AM

The Maryland Public Service Commission is seeking authority to impose fines on Pepco and other power companies if they fail to meet tough new standards for reliability and customer service.

The commission this week published proposed rules that would establish how quickly the companies must get the lights back on after an outage. The rules also would mandate how rigorously companies must inspect their lines, how vigorously they must trim trees and how quickly they must answer phone calls from customers.

The rules also would increase the type and range of data that Pepco and other companies must report to regulators about power failures.

Public Service Commission officials took the action after complaints from Pepco customers who suffered extended interruptions after major storms last year.

The proposed rules also follow _topan investigation by The Washington Post that found that Pepco ranked near the bottom nationally among electricity companies in terms of keeping the power on and bringing the lights back once the electricity goes out - _topeven on calm days with no severe weather.

The Post found that the average Pepco customer experienced 70 percent more outages than customers of other big-city utilities for which data were available. And the lights, on average, stayed out more than twice as long. The newspaper's study concluded that Pepco's reliability began faltering five years ago but that company officials failed to stem the decline.

Bryan Moorhouse, counsel to commission Chairman Douglas Nazarian, said the release of the proposed rules "is sort of the beginning of the process."

The public and commission staff are invited to comment before a March 3 meeting on the issue. Moorhouse declined to comment further.

Officials at Pepco, Baltimore Gas and Electric, and the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, which represents consumer interests, said they were studying the plan, which the commission published on its Web site Wednesday evening without prior notice.

The move came as a surprise because it preceded a consultant's report on reliability problems at Pepco.

A task force in Montgomery County also continues to study the issue, and state legislators have said they are considering remedial legislation.

"They hit all the high notes," Paula Carmody, director of the People's Counsel Office, said of the commission's proposal. "But we need to take a look to see what we think of the details."

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