Thursday, Feb. 7, 2008

State commission to study Bowie complaints about power outages

Power supplier BGE will update Bowie city on utility upgrade plans at a meeting Monday

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Bowie city has decided to ask the state Public Service Commission to analyze whether fixes proposed by the city’s power supplier are sufficient to lessen the number of electrical outages that have been ongoing for years.

Bowie residents have complained that the outages have occurred even during fair weather, and BGE has promised to spend millions of dollars to upgrade feeder lines.

In the last three years, the city averaged 70 power outages per year, and each outage affected at least 100 customers, according to Assistant City Manager John Fitzwater. The last major outage occurred in February 2007, when 28,000 residents lost power during an ice storm.

In December, the BGE Task Force, a city-created citizens group that has worked with BGE to find solutions to the ongoing outages, reported to the City Council that 19 of BGE’s 21 feeder lines into Bowie ranked low in terms of reliability. The reliability ranking was based on the number of service interruptions experienced by a particular feeder, excluding major storms, BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said in December.

More than 93 percent of similar feeder lines in BGE’s entire system are more reliable than the ones serving 48 percent of Bowie residents, according to a Nov. 27, 2007 task force report.

BGE representatives told council members in December they would spend $10 million over three years to make improvements to the 11 worst feeders first. While this work has not started yet, BGE crews trimmed several trees around power lines last summer to prevent short-circuiting.

BGE officials will update City Council members on the company’s planned upgrades at a meeting on Monday.

‘‘We believe the project — which will involve substantial equipment replacements and upgrades as well as aggressive vegetation management — will lead to a significant improvement in the reliability of service to our Bowie customers,” said Mike Fowler, BGE’s senior government relations representative. ‘‘We look forward to providing the council with details on Monday and working with the city and its citizens to communicate and implement the plan.”

Mayor G. Frederick Robinson and Councilwoman Geraldine Valentino-Smith (At-large) met last month with a representative from the PSC, which regulates public utility companies in Maryland. The PSC has said it could review BGE’s plan.

‘‘I believe our tax dollars are paid toward the state to help go toward the regulatory system which we should be able to avail ourselves of,” Valentino-Smith said.

Robinson also said he supports asking the PSC to look into the proposal.

‘‘If they’re willing to provide professional staff to take a look at what the task force and BGE put on the table, and that’s part of their normal service program, I think that is a rational way to go,” he said.

PSC spokeswoman LaWanda Edwards said the PSC frequently reviews inquiries from jurisdictions.

E-mail Megan King at mking@gazette.net.