For Pepco, customers' ire extends the storm

Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 30, 2011

Under fire from residents who remained without electricity after Wednesday's snowstorm, Pepco said Saturday that customers who lost power should have the lights back on by 11 p.m. Sunday.

Saturday remained a day of vexation for some residents, including many in the Bethesda and Potomac Regency areas of Montgomery County, who had been told their power would be restored Friday, and then Saturday, only to see those deadlines missed.

Yet there was good news, too. Several people who had lost power for hours and days had service restored by Saturday evening.

At various points Saturday, some residents who had been trying to ride it out began making plans to leave their homes. Some complained about what they characterized as rude and inconsiderate behavior by the power company, which had the largest number of customers in the region still without power.

"Bad information is no information," Steven Hubberman of Potomac said almost 72 hours after losing power. "It has been a very long time since we lost power and, as if it's not bad enough that it takes a long time to get it restored, they can't even give accurate information. You go to the Web site and you call, which is all you have, and what you hear is completely unreliable." Hubberman said his electricity was working by Saturday night.

As of 11 p.m. Saturday, more than 11,700 Pepco customers remained without power, most of them in Montgomery. Baltimore Gas and Electric, which once had 230,000 customers without electricity, reported 645 customers still in the dark. A spokesman for Dominion Virginia Power said earlier that all power had been restored.

Pepco spokesman Bob Hainey said the company had 1,200 employees and contractors restoring power, but that the storm itself had slowed the process. He said its arrival during afternoon rush hour, led to gridlock that made it impossible for crews to be in position.

"We were able to restore 180,000 of 210,000 customers who lost power in the storm by late Friday," he said. "A conservative estimate is that power will be restored to all customers by 11 p.m. Sunday."

That had been little comfort to Hubberman, his wife, Gail, and two teenage children. Counting spoiled food, restaurant meals and money for amusement, the Hubbermans estimate that the outage cost them $2,000. He called Pepco's system of estimating repair times "useless" and said the company should reimburse customers who lose power for more than a day. "After 24 hours, you don't have a choice. There are things you must do. Under 24 hours is an inconvenience. After that, you don't have a choice."

After the temperature had dropped to 45 degrees in his Bethesda home Saturday, David Hawkes took his family to the Mall to visit museums, eat and stay warm. Hawkes was incensed at the rudeness he said he had encountered on the phone with a Pepco customer service representative.

"She said we should have been better prepared in an emergency," he said. "That was some message coming from a power company that had been so poorly prepared to handle the bad weather."

His power was also restored by Saturday night.

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