Mulling a federal takeover of Pepco? -- Gazette.Net


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Pepco always uses the same excuse: extended power outages are due to a historic weather related event.

There is no question that the recent storm was unexpected and quite severe. But given the "increase" in number of "historic" weather related outages, Pepco needs to be prepared at all times to deal with these outages. Relying on out-of-state work crews, sometimes days away from the Maryland suburbs, is no way to be prepared.

I have lived all my life in Silver Spring. These power outages are not due to "historic" weather related events. We had them in the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, 1980s. What is different is that Pepco was prepared then and power was quickly restored.

As the population of the Maryland suburbs has increased, the number of repair crews has not kept pace with that increase. This is what is different. In earlier decades there were locally employed work crews that could respond to power outages in a timely manner.

Corporate greed is the true cause of the prolonged power outages. From 2008 to 2011, Pepco’s chief executive earned $8.8 million and its top officers more than $22 million; it paid no federal or state income taxes and actually received a refund of $817 million. It made $882 million in profits. So instead of consumers paying for reliability they are paying for inflated salaries.

What motivation has there been for Pepco to improve service? The more is spends on maintaining a workforce that can respond in a timely manner to outages, the less there would be available for salaries and dividends.

Why did it take Dominion Power 14 hours to restore its transformers and main feeder lines when it took Pepco 36 hours? Why did Dominion have 2,000 out-of-state workers when Pepco had only 300? If Pepco delays in bringing in out-of-state crews, it avoids paying the higher costs associated with doing that.

What will the Public Service Commission do this time? If I were on the commission, there would no profits for Pepco until its reliability in restoring power increases from its current dismal level to restoration within 48 hours. I would require Pepco to maintain a larger repair workforce. And I would require Pepco to put more power lines underground.

In the first test of the improved reliability that Pepco promised us, they have failed. And they have failed in a way that is costly to its consumers. I think of the hourly employees that have gone without pay because businesses are closed and I think of the difficulty they will have in making car and rent payments on time. I think of the small business owners who have had to shut down and will have no profit for perhaps a week, yet they still have to pay the rent on their shuttered businesses. I think of the cash-strapped local governments and the unexpected costs incurred by providing cooling centers and overtimes for police officers and school crossing guards to control traffic at dark intersections. I think of the federal government and how it has to curtail operations that have been affected by the lack of power. I think of families struggling in these tough economic times having to throw out the contents of refrigerators and freezers.

The Public Service Commission has to realize that it is dealing with a utility that is motivated by greed and take a tougher stance than it has taken in the past. No more promises: action, and prompt action from Pepco. The cost of Pepco's inaction is too costly for everyone who receives electricity from Pepco.

Given that Pepco supplies power to the federal government and many of its employees, perhaps it would be appropriate to discuss a federal government takeover of Pepco. Should the federal government (or anyone) be the victim of Pepco's lack of corporate responsibility and its negligence?

Paul Leiberton, Silver Spring