ANNAPOLIS — Maryland agencies and regulators need to take a “more proactive role” in creating electric utilities that can meet the demands of a highly technology- and electricity-dependent population and economy, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner told a table of experts called together by Gov. Martin O'Malley.
“If we are poised to spend upwards of a billion dollars on our utility infrastructure,” Berliner (D-Dist. 1) of Bethesda said, “let's not put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Let's build a new dynamic system that reflects our values and the requirements of the 21st Century.”
“Pepco's control over the wires limit our access to higher quality services," Berliner told the panelists, including officials from Maryland's Public Service Commission, Energy Administration and Department of Natural Resources as well as representatives from the National Regulatory Research Institute and the not-for-profit Energy Future Coalition.
“We need to rethink both what we expect from our utilities and the institutional arrangements that will bring about what we want” and the state needs to be “more forceful in holding Pepco accountable,” Berliner said.
O'Malley (D), in a June 29 executive order, gave the group 60 days to come up with recommendations on how to make the electric distribution system in Maryland more “resilient” in the face of extreme weather, such as the June 29 derecho that left hundreds of thousands of Marylanders without power for days.
“It would be a shame to waste a good crisis [and] this has been a real crisis,” said John Jimison, managing director of the Energy Future Coalition.
The resiliency problem is a facet of a long-term evolution of the electric sector, which needs to prepare for the time soon when most appliances will operate with smart chips and electric vehicles will make new demands, said Jimison, Berliner's former partner in an energy law practice.
The proliferation of solar roofs and backyard generators also have to be factored into a changing electricity landscape that will include more customers using power generated at their homes and offices and might include “microgrids” giving local areas local sources for power, Jimison told the panel.
But electric utilities know “reliability has a value” and they “already offer interruptable rates” giving customers savings if they sign up to be cycled off during peak system demand, Jimison noted.
Different communities may have different reliability needs, Berliner said, adding for example that in Montgomery County, where the economy is largely high-technology and energy-dependent, electric reliability may need to be greater than in rural Garrett County.
“I don't think we have begin to calculate social cost and economic cost of not having reliability,” Berliner said.
“I came here this afternoon after coming from Poolesville, ... talking with a farmer who had a Pepco truck in his yard, and he said, 'Roger, this is not OK.' If he does not have power he cannot run his dairy,” Berliner said.