- Pepco crews work on power lines in Montgomery County.
Maryland's Public Service Commission wrapped up its nearly day-long investigation into Pepco's response to outages after the July 25 storm that knocked out power for hundreds of thousands of mostly Montgomery County residents.
You can check out the play-by-play of the proceedings here, with the most recent posts up top.
The hearing came shortly after Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) sent a letter (PDF) to the PSC Aug. 6 urging them to investigate Pepco's response to the July storm. The timing seems good for O'Malley with an election creeping up. He was out and about today talking about the hearing, The Washington Post reports.
The commission asked questions about some serious flaws, including Pepco's automated storm response system giving some callers estimated power recovery times that were a month or two away, and Pepco's outage map crashing soon after the storm hit. Some customers had to wait for days to get an estimated recovery time.
Pepco officials defended their response to the July 25 storm and said that many of their problems stemmed from poor communication with customers. The company is apparently examining the feasibility of allowing customers to access outage maps using smart phones, for instance.
And then, of course, there are the trees. Pepco officials kept raising the problem of heavy tree cover, especially in lower Montgomery County, noting that falling limbs from old, and sometimes diseased, trees cause outages for thousands. This was particularly a problem in places like Silver Spring, they said. There are no hard numbers on the county's tree cover, but are trees really the explanation as to why there are more outages in Montgomery County than, say, in Arlington County?
One commissioner said at the hearing's conclusion that the day's investigation "is just the beginning. It is not the end. It’s the beginning of a process and I think it’s very important to emphasize."
But what will this process actually do for customers? This wasn't the first time Pepco faced the PSC to defend its response after a major storm. In fact, it faced the commission back in March to answer for its lag time in asking for outside help after the major February snow storms. Pepco didn’t make the same mistake twice this time around. The company quickly reached out to extra crews after the July 25 storm.
At the outset of today’s hearing, commission members reiterated that they were concerned with Pepco outages during fair weather, too. Unfortunately, they really didn’t get around to that. But don't worry. Residents can chime in on that topic and others during another public hearing at 6 p.m., Aug. 30 at the Montgomery County Council building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockville.