Municipalities seek control of streetlights

Officials meet with Pepco to discuss improved service and better maintenance

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Leaders from nine cities, villages and towns met with Pepco representatives on Thursday to discuss municipal streetlights — demanding lower prices, improved services, quicker maintenance responses and expanded lamp selections.

‘‘We just want more choice, better prices and better service,” said Kensington Town Councilman Al Carr before the meeting, which was held at the Kensington Town Hall. ‘‘If Pepco is not able to deliver those things, then we’re going to seek legislation that would give us the authority to maintain our own streetlights.”

Municipalities represented at the meeting included the Town of Kensington, the Village of North Chevy Chase, Chevy Chase Village, the City of Gaithersburg, the Town of Garrett Park, the City of Rockville, Section 5 of the Village of Chevy Chase, the Town of Somerset and the City of Hyattsville.

Issues ranged from pricing to lamp selection, but government leaders also expressed their frustration with Pepco, at times comparing it to Baltimore Gas and Electric.

Pepco’s prices for streetlight equipment and maintenance are ‘‘a little bit out of wack from the rest of the market,” Carr said, using a private contractor’s price quote as a reference.

Pepco charges about $500 for upgrading light bulbs to a more energy-efficient type, he explained, whereas a private contractor charges about $200.

‘‘The pricing discourages us from making energy efficiency upgrades,” Carr said. ‘‘.... And that’s not good public policy.”

The system for reporting streetlight outages also needs more accountability and efficiency, Carr said.

Unlike Baltimore Gas and Electric, which has a Web site for reporting outages, the Pepco system requires people to make time-consuming calls, he said.

Pepco also offers an ‘‘appalling” selection of lamp fixture styles that is limited and makes it difficult for municipalities to enhance their streetscapes, said Elaine Murphy, Hyattsville city administrator.

‘‘One size does not fit all,” she said. ‘‘The light that’s right for Garrett Park may not be the same light that’s right for Kensington or Chevy Chase View or Takoma Park.”

For municipalities in other states like Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts, which have the ability to purchase their streetlights and control their maintenance, ‘‘these concerns don’t exist,” Carr said.

‘‘But here in Maryland, you don’t have to earn our business,” he said to Pepco officials. ‘‘It’s a monopoly on the street lighting service. But we’d like you to act as if you did have to earn our service.”

Therese Yewell, Pepco state government affairs manager for Maryland, said Pepco has ‘‘no resistance” in allowing municipalities to purchase their streetlights.

‘‘If you want to buy them, you’re welcome to buy them,” she said. ‘‘It’s just a matter of sitting down and getting to that point where it’s a contract that addresses your interests... and our interests.”

Pepco opposed the proposed state legislation last spring that would have allowed municipalities to purchase streetlights in their jurisdictions, Yewell said, because ‘‘we felt that a mandate was not necessary since we are not resistant to selling [the streetlights] to you.”

In March, District 18 Dels. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. of Kensington, Ana Sol Gutierrez and Jane E. Lawton, both of Chevy Chase, sponsored a bill in the Maryland House of Delegates that would have allowed local governments to purchase streetlights in their jurisdictions.

The bill died, but efforts to reach a solution have continued.

Thursday’s meeting, which Madaleno arranged, was the first since the House bill failed.

In Montgomery County, Pepco owns and maintains approximately 34,000 streetlights on wooden poles. Of those, about 6,400 are in municipalities and special taxing districts. Pepco charges local governments for maintenance, equipment and electricity.

Some municipalities also own and maintain about 6,000 streetlights, which receive electricity through Pepco wiring.

The success of localized streetlights in other states served as one impetus for seeking state legislation, Carr said, but the legislation was not necessarily the ultimate goal.

‘‘We just want to get the service for our constituents and the costs and more attractive streetlights,” he said. ‘‘How we get there, we don’t care. We’d like to work with [Pepco] to get there.”

Pepco officials agreed to continue the discussion and respond to the concerns presented by the local governments at a second meeting in mid-September.

‘‘We heard you, we’re taking it seriously, we’re making progress,” Yewell said. ‘‘Clearly more progress needs to be made. We see this as a starting point to get things on the right track.”