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Advocates Want More Info On Local ‘Contact Voltage’ Risk

By Aaron Kraut

Wednesday - 12/11/2013, 2:05pm  ET

Anthony Green and Nancy Green talk about their advocacy work after the 2006 death of the their daughter, who died after being electrocuted by contact voltage in a Baltimore parkDeanna Green was getting ready to bat in a church softball league at a Baltimore park when she reached out to a fence to stretch.

The fence was live, energized by a faulty underground cable, which shot 270 volts of electricity though the 14-year-old’s body — resulting in her losing consciousness and her death later that night in May 2006.

Green’s parents, Nancy Green and former Baltimore Colts player Anthony “Bubba” Green, were in Rockville on Wednesday with other power regulation advocates to warn that an accident like it could happen again in Montgomery County, where Pepco has identified downtown Bethesda as one of three areas for special surveying of underground electrical systems.

“It happens more frequently than people know,” Nancy Green said. “Do not believe that it can’t happen to you, because we simply went to a softball game and my daughter didn’t come home.”

The Greens, along with Powerupmontco and Public Power for Montgomery County, urged the state’s Public Service Commission (PSC) to make available reports from all power companies that detail the risk of “contact voltage” incidents, such as the one that killed Deanna Green.

Based on the Deanna Camille Green Act of 2012, all power companies in the state must identify Contact Voltage Risk Zones (CVRZs) — urbanized, popular areas in which worn underground electrical systems could cause contact voltage through manhole covers, light poles, water features or even a typical playground fence.

In 2004, a New York City woman was walking her dogs when one was electrocuted through a metal plate that had exposed wiring beneath it. The dog reacted violently and the woman was electrocuted and killed when she touched the dog to try and calm it down.

Powerupmontco’s Abbe Milstein, a frequent critic of Pepco and the PSC, said the state needs to beef up its contact voltage rules, requiring power companies to survey monthly instead of yearly and expanding the types of objects that need to be surveyed. Eric Hensal, a public power advocate with Public Power for Montgomery County, said he intends to ask Montgomery County for evidence that Pepco has surveyed, since the survey would require help from the county to check county-owned infrastructure and right-of-ways.

Pepco's downtown Bethesda Contact Voltage Risk Zone, via Maryland PSCThe power companies are also required to file an annual compliance report showing the results of contact voltage surveys and summarizing each known contact voltage electric shock complaint received.

In August 2012, Pepco filed its plan for three CVRZs: Downtown Silver Spring, the Rockville Courthouse District and 190 acres of the Bethesda Central Business District. (See attached PDF below of the proposed Risk Zones from January 2012.)

Milstein said the PSC should make whatever reports have been filed available on its website.

In a statement, Pepco Regional Communications Director Courtney Nogas said the company is in compliance and tests all of its facilities on a three-year schedule. She did not provide details as to the results of the CVRZ report.

“Pepco is in full compliance with the contact voltage rules handed down by the Commission,” Nogas said. “Those rules require Pepco to file a plan with the Maryland Public Service Commission identifying our zones and method of testing for voltage, both of which the Commission approved.”

“It is in the public interest to have access to this information on the Public Service Commission’s website in order to demonstrate the utility’s compliance with Deanna’s Rule,” Milstein said. “We are calling on the Public Service Commission to post documentation for Deanna’s Rule by all utilities on the Commisson’s website so it is easily obtainable by the public.”

Anthony Green said the family sat down with Gov. Martin O’Malley a few weeks ago to discuss his ongoing advocacy for stricter contact voltage regulation.

“He shared with us how powerful the public service commissioners are. I’m saying, ‘If you have that much power, they should be able to make a change. Use it properly,’” Green said. “Our goal that we had in making it into a law; it was gutted. We had it turned into a law and it was gutted and turned into a regulation, which is really where it is right now. We had more bite in it. They took a lot out.”

“Don’t wait until it happens to somebody else,” he said.

PDF: Pepco’s Proposed Contact Voltage Risk Zones