Pressure mounts for utilities to give more outage info

(WTOP/Andrew Mollenbeck)

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WASHINGTON – Pressure is mounting for utilities to bury their power lines and make sure there are enough people to help bring the lights back on when the power goes out.

In a two-page letter to Maryland’s Public Service Commission, the leaders of Maryland’s biggest counties and Baltimore City asked regulators to require utilities to consider burying power lines, to make sure they have mandatory staffing levels and maintenance standards and to provide detailed outage locations on their websites.

The letter comes after a powerful derecho ripped through the region, leaving more than 1 million in the dark as trees brought down power lines.

“Now we have all seven major jurisdictions throughout the state of Maryland all in unison, saying we need a change,” says Montgomery County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett.

“In the past, it was only seen as a Montgomery County challenge.”

The letter is signed by Leggett and the county executives of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford, Howard and Prince George’s, as well as Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake.

The counties don’t expect Pepco, Baltimore Gas and Electric and other major utilities to bury all of the power lines, just the most vulnerable ones.

“You may not want to do the entire system overnight, it may be costly to do that,” Leggett says.

To bury the power lines, BGE said on WTOP it could cost $1 million per mile.

Power companies and PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian also have said burying power lines would boost bills by as much as $415 a year, but given the repeated outages in the region, the letter states, “Something must be done.”

The executives also called for more detailed outage locations so the counties can send personnel to check on residents.

Howard County tried to send firefighters door-to-door soon after the June 29 derecho struck, but outage information was not available. Five days into the outages the county’s GIS mapping experts and BGE were finally able to translate grid outage information into a list of addresses, County Executive Ken Ulman told The Baltimore Sun.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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