Md. Power Companies Answer For Widespread Outages After June Derecho

BALTIMORE (WJZ)—June’s powerful derecho thunderstorm plunged nearly 2 million Marylanders into the dark, many for days. That has Maryland’s Public Service Commission asking power companies questions.

Alex DeMetrick was at the hearing and has details.

The PSC has already had an earful from unhappy customers and is now focusing on providers to explain why repairs took so long.

“I don’t want to spend a lot of time giving speeches or characterizing anything, we’re going to get right to it,” said Douglas Nazarian, PSC chairman.

Meaning why it took 8.5 days to get everyone’s power back on in Maryland following last June’s derecho, a kind of super thunderstorm.

“People are tired of this. Our lights go out, then we’re out three or four days,” said a BGE customer.

Statewide there were more than 1.7 million outages.

Three quarters of a million were BGE customers. More than 15,000 repairs were made by BGE alone when 9,200 wires came down.

But Maryland’s five electric power providers were called to the PSC hearing because “we’re worried about how we’re going to improve recovery beyond what we saw here for this type of storm,” said Lawrence Brenner, PSC commissioner.

The utilities’ main defense is that they were taken by surprise at the derecho’s strength and speed, leaving little time to prepare.

“We had about 30 minutes, 30-40 minutes of a heads up,” said Rob Gould, BGE spokesman.

Unlike a hurricane with days of warning, the derecho hit fast.

“A solid line of thunderstorms just wiping across the entire state,” said Meteorologist Bernadette Woods.

The end result was outages equal to Hurricane Irene’s in 2011.

Still “I’m not detecting any areas where there were huge improvements from one year to the next,” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, PSC commissioner.

“We actually have put improvements into the process,” Gould said.

Improvements, BGE says, that helped, despite setbacks.

“We did it with no notice. We did it with 1,000 less utility workers who arrived around 2.5 days into the restoration. Yet we did it in the same timeframe as Hurricane Irene,” Gould said.

If there had been time to bring in those 1,000 workers from other states before the derecho hit, BGE says power would have been restored two-three days earlier.

The PSC has set two days aside to hear from Maryland’s five electric providers.They include the Baltimore Gas and Electric, the Potomac Electric Power Company, the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, Delmarva Power and Light Company and the Choptank Electric Cooperative.

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