In storm, Pepco last to seek aid

Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2011

Pepco did not call for major reinforcements to help restore power to its customers until late Wednesday night, well into the storm and several hours after Baltimore Gas and Electric had begun assembling outside contractors for help.

Similarly, Dominion Virginia Power began moving its own crews from southeastern Virginia and North Carolina closer to Northern Virginia as early as Tuesday, anticipating weather problems. As a result, it has called in only about 200 outside workers for additional help, a spokeswoman said.

BGE had arranged for about 400 extra workers by about 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to its spokesman. Pepco didn't ask for mutual aid until an 8:30 p.m. conference call among mid-Atlantic region utilities - a call arranged by BGE, both companies said.

Perhaps because of the earlier calls for help, BGE and Dominion Virginia Power had restored electricity to a greater percentage of their customers who lost power during the storm than Pepco had, company outage reports showed.

Pepco had restored electricity to just under half of its customers by late Thursday, and BGE and Dominion each had restored power to nearly two-thirds of those who had been left in the dark by the snow, outage reports on the companies' Web sites showed.

Pepco said it sought help later than other area utilities did because of shifting weather forecasts. The storm brought more wind and wetter snow than the utility had anticipated, and later in the day.

Michael Maxwell, the Pepco vice president overseeing the crew call-outs, said, "I know some people may try to make something of the time differences, but they shouldn't."

Pepco and Dominion said they expect to have power back to about 90 percent of their affected customers by Friday night. BGE said power to most of its customers will be restored by late Saturday, although its officials said pockets of outages could remain until Sunday.

As of Thursday afternoon, BGE had 645 outside workers - people who are not employees - ready to help restore power. Pepco had commitments for about 600, although nearly 400 of those had not arrived by Thursday night or had not received safety orientations, the company said.

Because all three utilities were hit by the storm, they could not turn to one another for help as they usually could, their spokesmen said, making the need for summoning outside assistance more urgent.

By about midnight Wednesday, as the snow ended, 205,000 Pepco customers had lost power. About 146,000 Dominion customers and 135,000 of BGE's were in the dark then.

Spokesmen for the utilities said the response from their own regional-based crews was hampered by the same traffic nightmares that made for hours-long commutes. They were further handicapped by high winds, which kept bucket crews grounded.

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