Berliner Blasts Pepco, Demands Change

Montgomery County Council president is harshly critical of Pepco response to June 29 storm. What do you think of his comments?

After almost 10 days of power outages amid a crippling heatwave, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner says he’s fed up.

In a statement released Monday, Berliner lambasted Pepco for its response to the June 29 derecho storm that left as many as 443,000 area residents without power, some up to a week or more.

“Our residents have had enough,” Berliner said in a written statement following a press conference. “While this was a big storm and outages are to be expected, Pepco’s performance – on every level – was unacceptable. The length of the outages. The appalling communications. The computer glitches and data discrepancies. The list can go on and on.”

Berliner’s suggestions to improve Montgomery County’s power source include:

  • adopting a system of performance-based ratemaking
  • requiring Pepco to hire more linemen to make service calls
  • reorganizing and updating Pepco’s computer system, data retentions capacity and communications
  • modernizing the power grid to sustain future, more violent storms, including adding undergrounding and redundant feeders
  • moving toward “micro grids” and distributed generation systems – such as roof top solar power
  • exploring alternatives to Pepco, such as publicly owned power coverage

“Public power doesn’t serve shareholders – it is solely responsible to its customers,” Berliner said. “I think it is time for our state legislators to give we need to explore public power through enabling legislation.”

A local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers says it wouldn’t support a publically owned approach. However, IBEW does acknowledge that electrical deregulation in 1999 by the Maryland General Assembly designed to provide customers with more options and increase price competition has instead caused a number of the issues Pepco customers currently face. 

“Deregulation [gave] utilities an easy way to boost their profits by reducing their payrolls and cutting back on training, recruitment and basic maintenance – shortcuts that pleased Wall Street shareholders but caused major headaches for customers and staff,” the IBEW Local 1900 union chapter said in a release.

Jim Griffin, president, financial secretary and business manager of Local 1900, which represents 1,150 Pepco employees, said the answer to the Pepco problem lies in hiring more full-time employees and better maintenance of infrastructure.

“You can’t run a system as complicated as this one with a patchwork of authority from county to county or city to city,” Griffin said. “It is such a large area that encompasses so many jurisdictions that you would end up with half a dozen little agencies that don’t answer to each other.”

Residents across the county have suggested alternatives to fix Pepco’s reliability issues.

In an interview in Potomac Village during the aftermath of the storm, June Meyers, a 20-year resident of Potomac, suggested a graduated income tax implemented by the county to put the power lines underground.

“I don’t know why Montgomery County doesn’t float some kind of tax proposal to put the lines underground,” she said. “In the end it’s cost effective because families are paying $3,000 to $4,000 a year when these storms happen anyway.”

In the meantime, Pepco has requested an extension on a decision that would impose a 4 percent rate hike for its Maryland customers, according to a Washington Post report. If approved, the rate hike would increase the average residential bill by $5.50.

The Maryland Public Service Commission was expected to announce its decision on the request by this Friday, but Pepco filed a last-minute request to delay the decision another week, claiming ongoing storm cleanup diverted its and the commission’s attention.

The commission is expected to issue its decision by July 20.


Editor's note: Story updated to correct 443,000 outage figure was for total residents, including Montgomery County.

Bernard Geenen July 10, 2012 at 09:28 AM
PEPCO is still in the dark ages. No other company is so inadequate when it comes to dealing with power outage. They spend a ton of money (extra crews, overtime pay...) trying to fix problems rather than preventing them. They also spend more money making beehive they care about customers than really taking care of them. Pitiful. Each time there is wind, rain, thunder, hail, or snow (so over 50% of the time) I expect the worst. There is no other region in the world that is so poorly "served" by its electric company ! Wen one raises the (simple) idea of burying the cables, PEPCO comes with outrageous - and laughable - figures of $ 1 Mo. per mile. That alone is proof positive that the company is worth less than nothing !
debbie July 10, 2012 at 11:30 AM
I am shocked no one has brought uo the obvious. Climate change and global warming is happened faster and sooner than scientists had predicted. We need to lessen out dependence on fossil fuels and start having a serious dialog about how we are going to deal with these issues of it is going to be a horrific time of storms, hurricanes and earthquakes. And don't forget we have many nuclear power plants on the East Coast which subject to an Earthquake could give us our very own Fuckishima, Time to deal with the reality or we have more to worry about then Pepco.
Michael Cronin July 10, 2012 at 12:05 PM
Pepco, POM on the stock exchange pays a hefty didvidend, about 30% higher than comparable companies. The fine they paid last year had no real effect and they still are very profitable. They need more discipline- a much bigger fine. The county has failed here as well. The roads where I live are more like tunnels than roads. The trees have been allowed to grow for years with little or no attention from the county. Not only do these trees fall on power lines, they also fall on cars and restrict the visibility of both signage and other traffic. The county has a lot to answer for as well as Pepco
Linda Foley July 10, 2012 at 12:07 PM
Berliner is right. It's not just the wires. It's PEPCO's pitiful communications and data discrepancies and "glitches" that are equally as frustrating as their inability to restore power within a reasonably expected time frame. Putting wires underground won't solve those problems.
Sarcastic Sam July 10, 2012 at 12:19 PM
Why don't you run Pepco and see if you can do a better job. Perhaps your leadership is all that is necessary to improve the total quality of service provided by Pepco. Yes, I agree too that the whole company should be fired and replaced!!
Joe Thomas July 10, 2012 at 12:56 PM
Under what law can Montgomery County "fine" Pepco? You do realize that even if they could "fine" Pepco they would acutually be fining you because the fine would passed on to customers.
elgin etchison July 10, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Today, (7/10), I saw a contract tree service on QO road between WineSap and Quince Mill pruning limbs , laying on the wires, that I reported well over a year ago!!!
Bill Samuel July 10, 2012 at 01:23 PM
I support a study of public ownership. Electric distribution is a monopoly and a public service. Public services which are natural monopolies should be controlled by the public, not for-profit companies. Public services should be run for the benefit of the public, not for private profit.
Bob Hydorn July 10, 2012 at 01:33 PM
Obviously the cost of burying the power lines is far beyond what the residents of Montgomery County can afford at this time. I would like to suggest that Park and Planning not allow trees to be planted along the right-of-ways, which grow up into the power lines overhead. Are we not helping to cause our own problems? This would at least be a start.
Kathy Scarbeck July 10, 2012 at 02:17 PM
Inept upper management and policies aside, the workers who were outside in the extreme heat -- including those from other states -- deserve our thinks for their efforts.
Rocky July 10, 2012 at 02:18 PM
Why doesn't Berliner leave the Council and head up the publicily owned power company he is talking about . He seems to have all the answer.
Theresa Defino July 10, 2012 at 02:24 PM
You are absolutely right, Debbie. Some people have noticed--at Rockville's city council meeting last night, Councilman Tom Moore said the city must take note of the changing weather patterns and make plans to respond in new and different ways--get pools open, offer cooling stations right away, were some of the ideas that have potential. I hope the city moves on that idea. Others should as well. We are not suffering these "climate change" issues alone. And we need to demand Congress finally pass legislation. Secondly, I think people need to know what they're talking about and keep it all in scale. This was a major storm that knocked out power to close to 1/2 a million people. It was unexpected--unlike a big snow storm. Most people had it back in a few days, nearly all within a week. Regardless of what others say, that's pretty impressive. I grew up in FL and learned to be patient when hurricanes and smaller storms took out power lines. I did see Pepco working diligently. I also saw crews from all over the country. People want instant gratification. I am grateful that Councilpresident Berlinger wants Pepco to be more responsive but what was the performance in this storm--and measured against what? I also say this as someone who lost power for 6 days--due to one tree on my street that brought down wires. I also had major damage at my home, including $4,000 alone in damage to my car from falling limbs. I expect insurance to cover the car, but little of the limb cleanup.
Bob B July 10, 2012 at 02:27 PM
10:25 am on Tuesday, July 10, 2012 The infrastructure is terrible. Go look at the transformers up on the poles. Most are rusted hulks. Of course they blow when hit with a surge. Improve the infrastructure. Start putting main lines under ground. NOW. Just the main ones. No dividends to PEPCO shareholders for a while. . . Stop wining about not being able to afford it. It costs more to do work on overtime during emergencies than it does to properly maintain and take care of equipment
NO2O July 10, 2012 at 03:09 PM
OMG ... Global Warming! You got to be kidding. Nuclear power plants melting down. Come on, think before you respond. They call it climate change because Global warming was proven to be based on falsified studies. The chance of a nuc power plant being hit by an earthquake causing a melt down on the east coast is less then you getting hit by lightning 5 or 6 times or winning power ball 8 or 10 times. So yes, it is time to deal with reality. Build more nuc plants (they are green). Require that all new utilities be run underground. Set up a long term plan to replace above ground utilities and put them underground (wait till you see the price tag on that) . I lived in Montgomery county for 27 years and can count the number of times on one finger that a storm like this hits. PS ... the last couple of years we were going through Global Cooling. Global warming started at the end of the last ice age
Theresa Defino July 10, 2012 at 03:16 PM
@NO2O--Climate change, global warming, etc, is real and man-made. I am not debating this point.
Barbara July 10, 2012 at 03:56 PM
How's that working for you? Our government is only as good as its citizens.
Barbara July 10, 2012 at 03:58 PM
Agree. Pepco should pay each of its customers $1000 for each day they were without power. See how fast things change if it affects their bottom line.
Barbara July 10, 2012 at 03:59 PM
Richard Rice July 10, 2012 at 05:58 PM
My cudos and thanks to the gneral workers of PEPCO who got the power back to my Kensington Estates home in about 10 hours time. I can't sleep if there is no air circulation; so my hat is off w/gratitude to the gneral workers who did a splendid job. It is too bad that putting electric cables underground was not avaIlable in the early 50's when our neighborhood was established. Let's bee thankful that it wasn't any worse than it was!!!
Bob B July 10, 2012 at 06:11 PM
I'd be happy if it had only been ten hours, but it was FIVE days. And all the power is my neighborhood is underground. The problem was in the adjoining neighborhoods which feed ours. I don't criticize the workers. I think the problem is old equipment. We had transformers blow up on the poles, catch on fire, once power was restored etc. If you look up, most of them are very very very old pieces of rust, as I mentioned before.
ricardo gonzalez July 10, 2012 at 06:35 PM
First step - political grandstanding. Second step - never followed by the fact that all these "priorities" need to be funded by ratepayers. Take the second step, tell us what these things will cost each of us and then take the public temperature , which will be a lot cooler, faced with reality. It's easy to kick Pepco around but maybe we are getting what we paid for and the lack of foresight of our pols to demand more. Berlinger is an energy consultant in his day job, it takes an outage for him to figure out that there's a looming problem? He should give back his $80,000+ council salary and the business he generates off of his position, because he failed us here more than the utility. My tax dollars are paying for a Monday morning quarterback?
steve July 10, 2012 at 06:42 PM
complain complain complain. Thats all the poor folks can do is whine whine whine. Which is harder for you folks to do play board games with the kids, talk to your kids, make it it an adventure. Oh, i know the internet doesn't work we are a little uncomfortable because we don't have AC. WE LIVE IN THE BEST OF TIMES. QUIT BLAMING PEPCO EVEN IF ALL THE PROBLEMS WERE SOLVED YOU WOULD STILL COMPLAIN ABOUT SOMETHING VERIZON OR COMCAST COME TO MIND
Tom Rossing July 10, 2012 at 07:43 PM
Steve; I guess your world is very rosie. Nothing for you to compliant about, Huh! Well stay in your Ivory tower for now, but soon they, it will come calling on you. When you do get your Wheaties pee'd in don't complain here, cause no one will listen.
99% July 10, 2012 at 08:02 PM
Pepco should pay me for the week of hotel room and food I had to throw away. $1000.00 spent during a week of power outage! PEPCO you S#$K! I got the electric bill in the mail. Why can't I send them a bill?
amarynth July 10, 2012 at 08:13 PM
You're right! My elderly relative should have just played a board game instead of having to go to the ER for heat-related reasons during her first few days home after a surgery. And people that need to have medicine refrigerated should just talk to their kids instead of complaining! After all, no one's ever died from heat stroke, right?
Bob B July 10, 2012 at 08:22 PM
Well Richard, as you can see, there is a big difference between ten hours of power outage and five days of power outage. No hotel expenses for you, no hundreds of dollars lost in food and medicine, no danager to any pets, and no risk of heat exhaustion I mean it is not as if it was 78 degrees during those five days. Imagine losing power for five days when it is 5 degrees above zero outside. . . Would it get below freezing inside your house for a couple of days????
Joe Thomas July 10, 2012 at 10:27 PM
This guy is so predictable. Seize upon a crisis and milk it for all its worth. Its fashionable to beat up on Pepco because everyone else is doing it. Good think that Berliner did not live in Florida after Hurricane Andrew. People I know did not have power for five weeks.
Bob B July 11, 2012 at 02:45 PM
Joe, all Berliner is doing is trying to get Pepco to redirect its cash flow to repair its infrastructure rather than paying high dividends. Pepco has a gross profit margin of 45%. See http://ycharts.com/companies/POM/gross_profit_margin Pepco needs a kick in the derriere to spend money on its infrastructure INSTEAD of on dividends to its shareholders (which have considerably HIGHER than the S & P 500 in recent years). The only real way to do that is to threaten its existence by replacing it with something else, in order to force it to divert its cash flow from dividends to replacing old, worn our infrastructure. That is what Berliner is doing. Were Pepco investing in its infrastructure instead of paying higher-than-average dividends, we wouldn't have this problem and Berliner could just sit back and say nothing. Of course, had Pepco invested in its infrastructure instead of paying higher-than-average dividends, we would not have these outages. The real problem seems to be that certain Pepco executives seem to prefer the glory that comes from paying out large dividends rather than the satisfaction that comes from replacing worn transformers when they need it.
99% July 11, 2012 at 03:01 PM
Frank, Do you have an infant, a pregnant wife? I would happily endure the heat and not pay a thousand dollars if I were by myself - than there is the cost of food that had been thrown out. Why shouldn't you get paid too?
Susan Knappertz September 18, 2012 at 03:27 PM
I think we should go with the underground wiring. It is safer and more aesthetically pleasing.


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something