Angry Customers Blast Pepco at County Hearing
Chairman of county's Pepco panel believes adequate service will take 'several years'
Outages for no apparent reason. Inconsistent and inadequate response when complaints are called in. Refrigerators full of spoiled food. Residents in relatively new neighborhoods switching to generators. Churches chronically worried about elderly parishioners stranded for days without power.
Those were just some of the grievances and frustrations detailed at a hearing last night as Montgomery County's Pepco "working group" tries to grasp the extent and causes of the widespread problems with Pepco's power grid.
In all, the 17 testimonials at the County Council’s hearing room in Rockville focused as much on chronic, inadequately explained problems in their particular neighborhoods—especially Potomac, Bethesda and Silver Spring—as they did on the massive outages in February, July and August.
Pepco’s service is the worse than anywhere else in the country in which Deborah Schmiel has lived. While her home in Twinbrook has been spared the problems of some of her neighbors, outages are “commonplace” where she works in downtown Silver Spring.
“Summer storms of unremarkable severity knock out power to traffic lights, residences and businesses for hours with enough frequency that one wonders where a hearty sneeze might have the same effect,” she said.
The residents blasted Pepco’s managers, chiding the century-old company for not having a culture of better customer service. Some called for financial penalties for noncompliance. Several had harsh words for the Maryland Public Service Commission, which has sole jurisdiction in regulating Pepco.
Others acknowledged that Pepco has responded better since the late-summer storms—an improvement which the Rev. Kenneth Nelson of Seneca Community Church in Germantown found “unexpected and welcome.”
“However, we want them, and you, to find ways to identify and resolve why we seem to have power outages all year long for just a simple breeze that might blow,” he said. “… We have people in our congregation who are elderly who have gone through blizzards without service and outages and have been in near-death situations. We don’t feel that we should allow this to continue for another year.”
Created by County Executive Isiah Leggett in October, the “working group” expects to complete its report by mid-April, said Norman Augustine, the group’s chairman and former CEO of Lockheed Martin. But he cautioned that it could take “several years” before Pepco service is adequately improved.
Pepco promised to beat that timeline, outlining its $256 million plan to take on communication, coordination with government agencies during major events, customer service.
The plan includes $36.5 million for tree trimming, $32.5 million for improving the infrastructure in the communities with the most problematic service, and $75 million for identifying communities best suited for underground wiring.
Thomas Graham, Pepco’s regional president, made a distinction between everyday tree problems and damage caused by trees during major events.
“There’s been a lot of information pertaining to trees, that we feel that trees are the major reason," he said. "… We’re not blaming trees on day-to-day. Some of the actions that we’re taking, they will have an impact on major events. They will also have an impact on those blue sky days.”
Pepco has boosted its tree-trimming efforts from 80 workers to 250, Graham said, and has installed 22 miles of underground wire since September, with another 40 miles to come this year.