Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Berliner on Pepco

In one of his regular emails to constituents last week, Council Member Roger Berliner shared his perspective on how to improve Pepco's service reliability. This is a matter of great concern to many of our readers (including your author) and we reprint his remarks below.

Keeping the Lights On

Now that we are well on the other side of the latest devastating storm to hit our community, it is time to begin the hard work of looking at the reliability - or unreliability - of Pepco's electric distribution system.

What you know and what I know right now is this - in many District 1 neighborhoods and throughout our county, our electricity goes out too often and for too long. On windy days and on days in which you can not see a cloud in the sky or feel a breeze on your face - our power goes out. For seniors living in 95 degree heat without electricity, for businesses that can not open, for mothers taking care of their children - the current state of affairs is simply not acceptable. And my office has fielded your complaints and heard your frustrations rise to the breaking point.

One of the many frustrations I feel in this situation is that our county has no -- I repeat no -- authority or jurisdiction over Pepco. Pepco is 100% regulated by a state independent regulatory agency, the Maryland Public Service Commission (MPSC), a 5 member Commission that is appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Maryland State Senate. Local jurisdictions like ours have no ability to demand or require Pepco to do anything. That is one of the reasons why I sponsored, and the Council passed, legislation that for the first time authorized the County to participate in proceedings before the MPSC - so that we could formally make our case to them on issues affecting Pepco and their rates.

This is also why all of my colleagues joined me in sending a letter to the Chairman of the Maryland Public Service Commission urging the Commission to open an investigation into the reliability of Pepco's service. We need the regulators who have direct control over Pepco to tell them that enough is enough and to order them to make sufficient investments in its system to meet customer expectations.

Here are the three basic steps that I believe the Commission should follow:

1. Establish a clear "standard" of reliability by which to hold Pepco accountable, a standard that truly meets our needs. A portion of Pepco's "return on equity", as authorized by the MPSC, should be explicitly linked to Pepco meeting that standard in the future;
2. Determine, neighborhood by neighborhood, the current level of reliability; and
3. Focusing first on the areas that experience the greatest outages for the longest periods of time, require Pepco to invest in system upgrades that will increase reliability to acceptable levels;

It is important to remember that there is "no free lunch." Upgrades to the system will be paid for by ratepayers - that's you and me. That is one reason why it will be important that Pepco work with us to identify the most cost-effective means by which we can make the most dramatic improvements.

Based on my direct conversations with the President of Pepco, I am convinced that they have come to the same conclusion - the system needs to be upgraded. They also appreciate that they did a terrible job in communicating with customers in this last storm. They have pledged to work with us to come up with an appropriate plan of action. And it is action that we need.

If you share our view that it is time for action, then I urge you to individually contact the MPSC, with copies to the Governor and your state legislators, by calling the MPSC at (410) 767-8000, Toll Free at 1-800-492-0474, clicking here, or writing them at

Maryland Public Service Comission
William Donald Schaefer Tower
6 St. Paul Street, 16th Floor
Baltimore, MD 21202