WASHINGTON – It’s a question many in the D.C. area ask whenever a storm like Sandy moves through: Why wasn’t more done to keep the lights on?
At the height of superstorm Sandy, more than 500,000 residents in D.C., Maryland and Virginia lost power. Several local utilities prepared by requesting extra help from out-of-state crews, but many could not begin restoration work until the storm passed.
Pepco spokesman Marcus Beal says the utility company is pursuing a reliability improvement plan, which includes replacing older equipment, trimming trees and moving selected lines underground.
Potomac Edison spokesman Todd Myers says trees are one of the main causes for outages, but making sure residents trim them is not so simple.
“There’s a tradeoff there. People like their trees; they look nice,” he says. “By the same token, trees are public enemy number one when it comes to power outages.”
While power lines in some subdivisions are underground, Myers says it is not economically practical to put all lines out of the way of high winds.
“It costs up to a million dollars a mile to put this stuff underground, and if you do that, it’s questionable whether people could afford their electric bills,” he says.
BGE, Dominion Virginia Power and Pepco say smart meters may help cut the length of outages by automatically alerting crews to which customers have power and which do not.
“You can do your best to storm-proof, but it really comes down to the fact that you’re going to need to have good plans in place … to get out there and put back the system together and to rebuild what you need to,” Myers says.