The Republic of T.

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Oh, How I Hate Pepco

You’ve probably seen the news reports about what happened to the metro-DC area this week. But here’s a reminder.

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Yes. we were out in the middle of that.

Mind you, our story was not nearly as bad as some. Those who had it the worst took 13 hours to get home.

Denise Borders spent nearly 13 grueling hours on the Parkway – "just sitting for hours. Literally. Sitting, not moving" – without food, without a bathroom, without sleep. There were trees down and people whose cars got stuck trying to turn around and get off the parkway, Borders said. But for most of the drivers on the road, the snow was less of a problem than the complete gridlock that enveloped them.

"You saw people get out and have to relieve themselves out in the street. It was horrible," Borders said after finally arriving at her home in Reston, close to 5:30 a.m.

On the parkway, as hour after hour passed, Borders commiserated with other drivers – parents anxiously trying to get home to their children, nursing mothers desperate to feed their infants. With their cellphone batteries slowly losing juice, the trapped drivers dialed 911 and other emergency numbers, looking for information about where to go, when the traffic would clear. No one had answers.

There were no answers.

I arrived at the Metro station to find no busses were moving. Not at the moment. They were spinning their wheels. My bus, I realized after 20 minutes, wasn’t coming. So I called the hubby to make the two mile drive from our house to come pick me up. He did. That same two mile drive home took us three hours.

Like a lot of people, after a long fight to get home, we found we had no power.

I’ve vented about our power company, a monopoly thanks to the deregulation of electricity utilities in Maryland and the Republican-appointee who "lobotomized" the Maryland Public Service Commission.

The head of the independent board that sets electricity rates in Maryland exchanged a series of candid e-mails with a Pepco lawyer last year in which he describes his decision to fire five senior staff members as giving a "lobotomy" to his agency.

Kenneth D. Schisler, chairman of the Public Service Commission, said yesterday that his comments were a "cynical" reference to how Democrats characterized upheaval at the regulatory agency. His e-mail is one of several that appear to show an industry lawyer’s close connections with Schisler and Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

A printout of the lengthy e-mail exchange, first produced in conjunction with a lawsuit filed by a fired agency employee, was given to The Washington Post yesterday and authenticated by Schisler.

The document also offers a look at the inner workings of an agency that has come under fire during the past several days after it approved substantial rate increases for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and Pepco.

Democrats have said they believe Schisler had worked to dismantle the professional staff and said yesterday that the "lobotomy" remark is confirmation that they were right.

Well, the lobotomy took. I’ve written before about how Pepco ranks at the bottom in reliability. Evidently the company hasn’t seen fit to put its stimulus or record profits to use. The Washington Post gave an example in an in-depth article.

In recent years, Pepco has placed near the bottom for daily reliability in surveys that compared power companies around the country. Pepco tends to have more sustained power interruptions, defined as those lasting longer than five minutes. And when the lights go dark, they tend to stay off longer. In one 2008 survey, Pepco finished last among participating utility companies on two of three reliability measurements, records filed with regulators show. Pepco stopped participating in that annual study after its last-place finish.

The Post’s analysis found that service was far less reliable for communities served by Pepco in Maryland, on average, than for those in the District. One reason might be that two-thirds of District customers are served by underground lines, while 80 percent or more of Maryland customers get power through aboveground wires somewhere along the route.

Pepco is required to report to regulators its worst neighborhood lines and to devise plans to improve them. But there hasn’t been much improvement. A decade ago, Pepco identified its worst 13 feeder lines in the state. Ten of those still need to be improved.

All the time the lights were out, we listened to the hand-cranked radio I bought after teh last snow storm outage, and we listened to the reports of power outages. Out of the other utilities in the area, Pepco had the highest number of outages — ten times as many at some points.

Now I find out that even though they had the most outages, Peoco didn’t call for help until well into the storm.

Pepco did not call for major reinforcements to help restore power to its customers until late Wednesday night, well into the storm and several hours after Baltimore Gas and Electric had begun assembling outside contractors for help.

Similarly, Dominion Virginia Power began moving its own crews from southeastern Virginia and North Carolina closer to Northern Virginia as early as Tuesday, anticipating weather problems. As a result, it has called in only about 200 outside workers for additional help, a spokeswoman said.

BGE had arranged for about 400 extra workers by about 5 p.m. Wednesday, according to its spokesman. Pepco didn’t ask for mutual aid until an 8:30 p.m. conference call among mid-Atlantic region utilities – a call arranged by BGE, both companies said.

Perhaps because of the earlier calls for help, BGE and Dominion Virginia Power had restored electricity to a greater percentage of their customers who lost power during the storm than Pepco had, company outage reports showed.

Oh how I hate Pepco. They should thank they’re luck stars they’re a monopoly. Because if there were any other option that was even remotely better, I think a lot of Pepco’s hostages customers would jump ship.

In the meantime, we should shop for a generator…

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