Pepco is still in the hot seat over how one of the region’s principal electric power providers responded to massive power outages throughout the Metropolitan Washington area in the wake of a violent summer storm June 29.

If a July 13 hearing conducted by the D.C. Council is any indicator, Pepco executives will be sweating out complaints about its service reliability long after the damage from the freak storm—called a derecho by meteorologists describing how the storm stretched for over 700 miles —that left 443,000 Pepco customers powerless, 66,000 of them in D.C. is cleared.

Councilmember Yvette M. Alexander, who chaired the hearing, said she wants to keep a close watch on Pepco as the city heals and, amid grumbling about a proposed electricity rate hike, considers reducing vulnerability by putting electric power lines underground.

“I think the overall solution would be to go underground, for the entire system. Not just underground and its fed to something above ground,” said Alexander. “The Council is really interested in doing that as well as the (Pepco) executives.” She noted that it would cost a lot of time and money.

She said areas with a completely buried line system didn’t suffer from power outages, such as Georgetown and Capitol Hill. She wants to see more power sources back in the District because, for instance, “a lot of substations that control D.C.’s power are in Maryland,” she said.

In a hearing lasting over four hours, Pepco was the target a chorus of complaints about everything from how long it took to restore power to how restoration crews were assembled to whether blacked out neighborhoods were ignored.

“The overall consensus was that Pepco has to do better,” said Alexander. “They constantly ask for rate increases year after year after year, and people are not seeing the investment in terms of improvement and reliability and restoration.” She added that “certainly some of the equipment needs to be updated and we need to see what Pepco is doing with our investing in terms of upgrading their equipment and in terms of having the adequate number of their employees.”

Most of the complaints centered on the widespread losses of residents and merchants.

Alexander said she needs “to see solid evidence that, in fact, they’re doing the things they need to do to update their systems, to update their equipment,” she said. “I need to see something tangible.”

Jessika Morgan

AFRO Staff Writer