Saturday, July 31, 2010

Madaleno Writes Public Service Commission on Pepco

In his capacity as Chair of the Montgomery County Senate Delegation, Senator Rich Madaleno (D-18) has written the Public Service Commission asking if Pepco's performance on restoring power after outages meets industry standards. Madaleno says the outage last Sunday, which left thousands of customers in the dark for days, "is just the latest in a series of events that have pushed the community’s patience to the breaking point." Madaleno also announces his intent to hold a joint hearing of the county's Senate and House delegations on Pepco's performance.

Following is his letter to the Public Service Commission.

July 29, 2010

Chairman Douglas R. N. Nazarian
Commissioner Harold D. Williams
Commissioner Susanne Brogan
Commissioner Lawrence Brenner
Commissioner Therese M. Goldsmith
Maryland Public Service Commission
William Donald Schaefer Tower
6 St. Paul St.
Baltimore, MD 21202

Dear Commissioners:

I write to you today in relation to your authority to hear matters about the quality of utility service, specifically electrical utility service, and more specifically Pepco service, in region. As you certainly know, our region was hard hit by a sudden, intense storm on the afternoon of Sunday, July 25th. Hundreds of thousands of residents in Montgomery County (and elsewhere) lost power that afternoon, and, as I write this letter (four days later), many thousands of Montgomery County residents are still without power and without reliable information as to when they may expect the restoration of that power.

While everyone understands that natural events do occur and that it may take some time for Pepco to get their service up and running again, this outage is just the latest in a series of events that have pushed the community’s patience to the breaking point. People have long memories when it comes to losing their electricity, and they still remember Pepco’s poor performance after the ice storm in 1999 and following Tropical Storm Isabel in 2003. Additionally, communities around my district and around the county have stories about frequent outages whenever winds gust over 15 mph or a heavy rainfall occurs.

In a press release issued by Pepco in 2004 the vice president for emergency preparedness spoke about how the company was “continuously improving by developing our ability to communicate with our customers and providing more information to help our customers plan their lives…” While I respect the work that Pepco has done to restore service after this most recent storm, their inability to provide accurate and timely information to their customers – again – has infuriated many.

I would like to know from the Public Service Commission (PSC) what, if any, industry standards are in place for assessing the quality of restoration work done by an electric utility following widespread outages, expected or unexpected. Are there methods in place for assessing the company’s ability to communicate with customers? Where does Pepco stand in relation to such standards? If they do not meet some minimum standard, what consequences do they face?

Considering this is the second large scale failure of their distribution network this year, one may conclude that this network is no longer adequate for the weather challenges of the mid-Atlantic region. I would also like to ask if the PSC has reviewed Pepco’s equipment maintenance and replacement schedule to see if it meets industry standards. As we deal with the aftermath of this storm, constituents have been contacting my office and those of my colleagues to report repeated outages during summer months from thunderstorms. There appears to be growing discontent with Pepco’s quality of service in general. Therefore, is there an objective measurement of performance for a distribution company and how does Pepco rate on any scale used by the PSC?

As the chair of the Montgomery Senate Delegation, I intend to convene a joint hearing with our county House colleagues to review these issues later this fall. We will provide Pepco with an opportunity to present an analysis of their performance during the two major system failures, as well as the general performance when dealing with outages. I hope that the PSC will also participate in the hearing and address some of these concerns.

We have lived through too many years of too many unmet promises and we need to do better for our residents and our business community.


Richard S. Madaleno, Jr.

cc: Senator Jamie Raskin, Vice Chair, Montgomery County Senate Delegation
Delegate Brian Feldman, Chair, Montgomery County House Delegation
Delegate Susan Lee, Vice Chair, Montgomery County House Delegation
Montgomery County Council
Ms. Therese Yewell, State Relations Director, Pepco Holdings Inc.