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County Executives: Utilities Must Give Us Data

In a letter to the utilities' regulatory agency, leaders of seven jurisdictions outline changes they said need to be made in light of the power failures during the derecho storm.

 

Less than two weeks after a massive storm disabled power to more than three quarters of a million Maryland residents, elected leaders wrote in a letter to a state regulatory agency that utility companies need to improve their performance and disclose critical outage information when government agencies request it. 

In the letter to the Public Service Commission, officials urged the regulatory agency to consider changes to the way utilities operate, including burying some power lines underground, mandatory staffing levels and improved disclosure of outage information to local municipal officials.

The letter was signed by Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, and the executives of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

In Howard County, the Department of Fire and Rescue Services began dispatching crews to areas without power on July 2, three days after the powerful “derecho” storm touched down in Maryland.

In three days, crews found .

It was five days after the storm hit that Howard County officials were able to get a list of specific addresses with outages by combining the county’s GIS mapping technology with grid outage information, the Baltimore Sun reported; not from the utilities themselves. 

“Companies would not disclose this data,” the letter to the PSC read.

If they had provided street-level information, it would have greatly assisted government efforts to provide support in these areas. Utility companies can and should provide detailed outage information to local governments, and the June 29 “Derecho” storm showed that local governments cannot fulfill public safety responsibilities without it.

The letter also addressed the “well-documented” process of burying power lines underground and insisted that the PSC “must undertake a study that examines the specific locations in the Pepco and BGE service areas that would benefit most from underground wire placement,” as well as a study of the conditions of above-ground equipment.

According to the Sun, BGE officials said they looked forward to talking with the public officials on ways to "enhance our restoration efforts."

During the recent storm, crews from across the country and Canada mobilized in Maryland to assist utilities as they repaired damage from the high winds. While acknowledging that emergency-level staffing at all times is not a solution, the letter questions the adequacy of current staffing levels and preventative programs such as tree-removal.

“As elected leaders of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions,” the letter read, “We stand ready to work together to make sure major metropolitan areas are not disabled by a single weather event, whether it involves snow, rain, ice or wind.”

In all, 19 deaths were reported statewide during the 12 days of extreme heat following the storm, the Sun reported. 

BGE it had restored power to 748,000 customers after the storm, including outages that resulted from subsequent, less damaging storms last week.

Ulman, in a letter to PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian, also asked that a public hearing reviewing the events of the storm be held in Howard County. 

“Howard County residents were significantly impacted by outages, and many suffered through hot days with limited relief,” he wrote.

as part of an investigation into BGE’s reliability in several Ellicott City neighborhoods.

Read Patch’s coverage of the powerful “derecho” storm and its aftermath:

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Mike Brown July 11, 2012 at 02:57 PM
BG&E and other utilities have stated that if the power goes out with all lines buried underneath the ground it would be a longer ETA to get power restored. Oh and did I mention they have all ready stated that it is not cost effective to do that. It would be at least 20 years for the pay off and the increase in bills per customer is not cool. I agree they need more people staffed when the threat of severe weather is approaching. I understand this time around they were not able to stage out of state crews but you know what mother nature is unpredictable and with climate change these things will happen!
Mike Brown July 11, 2012 at 02:59 PM
I am not saying that improvements between the government and utility companies are not needed because they are needed but change does take some time...you can not just say we are going to do it this way tomorrow because what about the risks. you need to run drills, etc.
Steve July 11, 2012 at 03:02 PM
The utilities will tell the County Executives to pound sand like they always do. They are impotent and the utilities know this. Just look what Columbia Gas is doing with their pipeline.
fred July 11, 2012 at 04:36 PM
dcmerkle, if they were in high rises then it is the responsibilty of the building owner as high are required emergency generator backup.
Ruth A July 15, 2012 at 09:18 PM
Local government resources are already going to adaptation and survival issues related to climate change. In the coming months and years there will be more frequent and intense incidences from chaotic climate due to climate change. Not to mention peak oil, which means we'll have fewer fossil fuels resources to aid adaptation. How can we help people understand this kind of thing may become the new normal? There are things we can do now to help ourselves and our communities! We have many resources at www.hococlimatechange.org and www.transitionhoco.org. Join us as we work toward solutions - email us at hococlimatechange@gmail.com and transitionhoco@gmail..com. And ask for information about a Resilience Circle!

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