Reporting Mary Bubala
BALTIMORE (WJZ) — While many Marylanders try to repair damage left by the derecho that roared across the state last month, others are evaluating the response to widespread power outages.
Mary Bubala speaks exclusively with the man at the center of the storm: BGE’s president and CEO.
The derecho storm roared into Maryland with a crushing blow, rivaling even the fiercest of hurricanes and stripping power from three-quarters of a million BGE customers in a mere 30 minutes.
“The numbers were climbing fast and it was clear that this was a storm of historic proportions, unlike anything I had ever seen,” said BGE President and CEO Ken DeFontes.
On June 29, DeFontes was hunkered down at home glued to the radar on his computer.
“It was a scale equivalent to a hurricane but without the warning,” DeFontes said.
Immediately, DeFontes directed BGE to deploy some 1,200 linemen across the state and called in reinforcements. As temperatures soared to 100 degrees, for some the hours without power turned to days.
“I feel the pressure personally, because I understand how important this is,” DeFontes said.
Important enough that lawmakers including Governor Martin O’Malley, Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Chris Van Hollen call for investigations and possible fines.
“I understand they’re reacting to the feedback they’re hearing from their constituents. I do understand the need for us to be evaluated,” DeFontes said. “I do believe, though, that it is inappropriate to simply say, knee-jerk reaction, let’s punish the utilities. We’re working hard, doing the best job we can to restore service quickly and we are continuing to make very significant investments in improving reliability.”
Some say the answer is to start burying power lines.
“Today, BGE has almost 65 percent of its system [underground]. We’ve been putting in lines underground since 1969, but we still have 9,500 miles of overhead lines. If we replace 200 miles of them a year, that’s a 50 year project,” DeFontes said. “I’m willing to do that but we also need to have an honest conversation about if we do that, what’s going to be the impact on customers’ cost?”
He’s unwilling to grade BGE’s response to the derecho.
“We are in the process of evaluating our performance,” he said. “I think, given the circumstance with no warning and given the magnitude of the problem, this performance compares actually better than even what we did with Hurricane Irene. This storm was everywhere and that’s what makes it different. That’s what makes it difficult.”
DeFontes says BGE is aggressively hiring linemen but that no utility can hire enough staff to handle a storm of this scale.