Bethesda family says derecho still dominates life

WASHINGTON – It’s been nearly a month since a violent storm ripped through the region. For most people, the downed tree limbs have been cleared from the yard and the refrigerator has been restocked.

But for some families, the derecho isn’t over. WTOP talked to a Bethesda family that says it’s still dominating life.

The homeowner, who didn’t want his name used, remembers the night vividly.

His wife was at a high school reunion. He was out with a friend when the derecho hit and he got the call from his teenage son. His son heard a big bang, and scrambled down to the basement with the family’s pets. Then the teen called his father.

When asked what happened the teen simply said, “I don’t know Dad, I’m hiding in the basement and all I know is water is coming in!”

What also came in was a tree. An old growth tree crashed through the roof and obliterated the bedroom of the homeowner’s daughter. His wife says she’s grateful that their daughter was staying with friends that night.

In the first week after the storm, the homeowner said the family was “just literally just trying to clean up, get the glass out of the house, get our belongings, meet with insurance people.” All of that was done without power. The electricity was out for six days.

The homeowner, a businessman, says he understands the gravity of the situation, that Pepco couldn’t possibly get the power back on withnin 24 to 48 hours in a storm of that magnitude.

“Two days, three days, OK. But five, six, seven, days? That’s just excessive,” he says.

But what infuriated him was what he says was the utility’s response to his call that another tree down the street had fallen and was left dangling across power lines. He saw it as a threat to public safety and called on the crews to come as soon as possible. He says he was told since power to that area was out, it wasn’t an immediate threat to safety.

Given his situation, how did he feel about the fact that Pepco’s been granted a rate increase? The increase means customers will pay, on average, $2 more a month.

“I’m not hung up on $2.” he says.

“What’s fair is fair. If they want their money, they should pay penalties” when the outages occur. Otherwise, he says, state regulators ought to hold Pepco responsible.

“Anybody else who doesn’t perform their job gets fired.”

The Public Service Commission, which regulates Pepco, granted the utility an $18- million rate increase on Friday. Pepco had asked for $68 million.

Tuesday, Pepco sent out a news release via email with a statement attached. In the statement, Pepco Regional Vice President Tom Graham said the utilty was “disappointed” with the amount of the increase.

The statement went on to say: “Graham said that Pepco will have to find cuts in other spending categories and questioned the sustainability of the investments in reliability with the level of recovery the PSC has allowed.”

Pepco still has to defend its response to the derecho in a storm performance review before the PSC in September. In August, the PSC will get public reaction in a series of hearings for public comment. On Aug. 7, the PSC will travel to Montgomery County and hold a 7 p.m. hearing at the County Council Office building. On Aug. 8, the PSC will hear from Prince George’s County residents at a 7 p.m. hearing at Prince George’s Community College.

Pepco isn’t the only utility that will have to defend its storm response. Under state regulation, Baltimore Gas and Electric, Potomac Edison and Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative will need to do the same. Click here for a full list of of hearings and dates.

WTOP’s Kate Ryan contributed to this report. Follow Kate and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)