Here’s the truth about the painful and prolonged power outages in our region recently: It’s not Pepco’s fault.
June’s derecho? Not Pepco. Tropical storm Lee in September? Not Pepco. “Snowpocalypse” in 2010? Not Pepco.
The ceaseless blaming of Pepco — in the media, at the water cooler, among politicians — now borders on outright denial. Of what? Of this: Our weather is changing, right before our eyes. It’s part of a worldwide climate shift, linked to global warming, for which the evidence has reached avalanche proportions. Screaming at Pepco about insufficient repair trucks just won’t help much.
I lost power along with 1.3 million others in the region on June 29, and I’m a Pepco customer. But the falling trees — in addition to toppling power lines — crushed cars and homes and killed more than a dozen people. Would a pre-storm track record of 10 or 20 or 30 percent faster recovery from outages at Pepco have prevented such horrors?
And now come reports last week showing Pepco actually outperformed Baltimore Gas and Electric in restoring power after the derecho. Pepco restored power to its customers in, on average, 26.01 hours, compared with 37.55 hours for BGE. The average outage for Potomac Edison, which serves western Maryland, lasted 29.6 hours.
But the media buried the data showing that Pepco’s performance surpassed that of BGE, continuing the story line that Pepco can be blamed for most of our troubles starting June 29, not the historic intensity of this “land hurricane” itself and the frightening trend it fits.
This finger-pointing merely deflects attention from the climate crisis that, unlike the derecho, comes with plenty of warning. Yet our denial only deepens as the evidence grows. Wildfires burn out West; we had no winter across much of America; more than half the nation is experiencing drought, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says 2011 set the record for most billion-dollar-plus natural disasters in the U.S.: 14 of them. Munich Re, meanwhile, one of the world’s largest insurance companies, says man-made climate change is clearly driving these extreme weather trends. The scientists, in other words, are right. The combustion of oil, coal and natural gas to power most of our economy is what’s ruining the climate.
So why in the world aren’t the media giving climate change and fossil fuels even a quarter of the attention they pour on Pepco as the source of our spoiled-food, dark-house, and fanless-nights problem?
Is Pepco blameless? Of course not. Regulators fined the utility $1 million last year for falling behind on maintenance that could have prevented some of the damage to power lines. But imperfect tree trimming is trivial compared with the colossal climatic forces assaulting our collective grid.
Pepco’s real crime is this: Nearly half its electricity comes from the combustion of coal, the largest trigger for global warming on the planet.
Pepco is guilty as charged for failing to switch fast enough from coal to zero-carbon wind and solar power, thereby slowing the warming that’s fueling the storms that require repairs in the first place.
So by all means, write a letter the next time your Pepco power goes out longer than seems reasonable. But just remember the real solution to violent weather is this: less coal. More wind power. Until we demand that, we have only ourselves to blame.
Mike Tidwell is director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, based in Takoma Park. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.