Pepco, like the rest of the region, is patiently awaiting the findings of the Public Service Commission (PSC) hearings on the utility company’s service reliability. In the meantime, leadership at the company is trying it’s best to reassure customers know that it is striving to improve its performance.

PSC members have criticized the company for poor crisis prevention, including its failures to perform routine system checks. But the commission is also praising Pepco for many of the changes it’s implemented. Among those changes is the utility giant’s monthly reliability reports on each jurisdiction it serves – Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and the District –and another for Maryland state legislators that lets the public know what the company is doing and where.

The company has also issued a Six-Point Reliability Enhancement Plan, which calls for trimming trees, improving priority power lines, meeting increased customer demand, installing advance technologies, replacing aging infrastructure and installing underground lines.

“Since last fall, we’ve aggressively trimmed over 1,800 miles of tree line and upgraded over 100 miles of underground cable,” Pepco Holdings CEO Joe Rigby said in a statement. “Our goal is to avoid outages to begin with, but when outages do occur, our aim is to restore our customers’ power as quickly and safely as possible.”

But those words rings hollow to those in the metropolitan area, who have spent nights in the dark or had to throw away spoiled food from their refrigerator. In February, Gov. Martin O’Malley issued scathing comments about the company after residents went without power for days after a winter storm.

“Despite earnest promises, numerous press releases, and even a six point plan, families in our State went without service for up to five days. This type of failure is unacceptable,” said O’Malley said then. “The people of our state deserve to have basic standards of reliability – standards to which they can hold their utilities, and standards that include financial incentives for the utilities to adhere.”

Pepco officials say they are taking the complaints very seriously. They say they have made a commitment to improving service, despite what the governor says.

“The bottom line is that we’re taking this very seriously,” said Bob Hainey, media relations manger at Pepco Holdings. “That’s why we’re making this $500 million investment over the next five years and we intend to be a ‘top-performing’ utility.”

Exacerbating the issue was a report in the Washington Examiner that implied Rigby told members of the Montgomery County Council that the company wasn’t “shooting for average” and that he didn’t expect the company to become a “top-performing” company in the next two-three years.

Rigby said his words were taken out of context. He claims that he was trying to explain that he wants a complete overhaul of Pepco’s service. “I am disappointed and surprised how my comments were totally taken out of context in the June 20 edition of the Examiner,” Rigby said in a statement. “Pepco is fully committed to our customers. My goal is to dramatically improve reliability and service. We are determined to be a top performing utility as quickly as possible and we’re making the necessary investments to make that happen.”

Final rulings from the PSC hearings are expected in September.


George Barnette

Special to the AFRO