Regulator awaits utilities’ reviews on their storm efforts

BALTIMORE — The head of Maryland’s Public Service Commission said Thursday that all of Maryland’s major electrical utilities will have to file reports on how they managed power restoration in the aftermath of the strong storm that tore through Maryland late last week, knocking out power to more than 1 million Maryland customers.

While regulators are now focused on restoration efforts, Doug Nazarian, the PSC chairman, said Maryland utilities will have to file the major storm reports 21 days after power is restored. Major storm reports are required when a storm affects 10 percent of a utility’s service area or 100,000 customers — whichever is less, Nazarian said.

“Now what we will do when we unpack this is we will have the opportunity in a deliberate and appropriate way to look at whether their systems should have weathered this storm better and what, if anything, should be done about that,” Nazarian said.

Utilities will have to report on preparations, execution of plans and customer service performance. The chairman also said hearings are generally held to get feedback from the public.

After storms in the summer of 2010 in Montgomery County, the PSC decided to hold a separate review of Pepco, a public utility covering much of the nation’s capital and its Maryland suburbs.

“We have the ability under our law to open further proceedings if we need them,” Nazarian said. “We have the ability, if we find it appropriate and after appropriate proceedings, to issue fines or penalties, if that is appropriate.”

The long power interruptions come at a time when Pepco is seeking a 4 percent increase to Maryland customers’ electric bills.

A decision by the PSC is expected by July 13. Regulators consider a variety of factors in weighing the increase, including how much a utility has invested in infrastructure.

Nazarian declined to comment on Pepco’s rate increase request because it is still pending.

He noted that the PSC fined Pepco $1 million in December for failing to maintain its system properly over a period of years and subjecting customers to long power failures too often.

“And the other thing that we said in that case which got a little less attention but is relevant here is we said that we would determine in their next rate case the extent of the additional catch-up spending that they’ve had to do in order to bring their system back into compliance and that we would disallow the portion of that spending that we thought was attributable to their historic neglect,” Nazarian said.

As of Thursday afternoon, about 53,000 Maryland customers were still without power — six days after the storm tore through Maryland.

That means about 93 percent of customers who lost power after Friday’s storm have been restored, Nazarian said.

Nazarian noted that the greatest remaining restoration work is in Baltimore city, Baltimore County and Montgomery County.

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