As residents raise concerns, BGE promises fixes on outages

Utility works to improve city's southeast infrastructure

August 27, 2010|By Jessica Anderson, The Baltimore Sun

After a summer of record-setting heat and a number of days with power outages for some Southeast Baltimore residents, vows from Baltimore Gas & Electric Co. offer some relief.

The neighborhood of rowhouses undergoing various stages of rehabbing has surpassed the aging, underground infrastructure, causing a strain on the system — specifically, one cable beneath Pulaski Highway that crews were forced to repair this summer. But until the cable could be located, residents were left out in the heat — some as many as nine times during July's high temperatures.

"We were almost ready to get in our vehicle in the AC," said Jim Horner, 58, who lives on Robinson Street east of Patterson Park. He said he lost power between eight and nine times in July. One of those days, when he lost power for 12 hours, the temperature reached 105 degrees.

Horner said he's "accepting" of the company after BGE officials held a meeting Thursday, when about 40 residents gathered in a South Clinton Street church basement to voice their concerns.

"They've been helpful," Horner said, but "what you expect from BGE is a reliable system."

BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said, "We're hoping this is the beginning of that dialogue."

She said there are 769 customers in the affected area east of the park between Baltimore Street and Eastern Avenue, including residents and utilities such as Verizon, but not all in the area experienced the summer outages.

While the cable has been repaired to restore power, Foy said that future upgrades are required and crews will have to "de-energize the line," leaving residents to prepare for planned outages this fall. No dates have been planned yet, she said.

"Essentially, we regularly monitor increases in electric usage and upgrade our system accordingly," she wrote an e-mail Friday. She said that in planned communities, the company can more easily prepare. But when older homes in existing communities upgrade or add new products that increase energy usage, it can cause problems and require system improvements to accommodate the increased demand.

In the meantime, the company is asking residents for patience.

Kevin L. Bernhard, president of the Highlandtown Community Association, said he felt the meeting had "no resolution," and many residents left still questioning higher July electric bills and issues with low voltage, which causes appliances to work harder.

Bernhard said the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, a utility consumer advocacy agency, will do an independent review of BGE's stats that compares residents' July bills in the affected area with a sample of other BGE customers' bills. The utility company's review found that there was little difference between the two, even with the series of outages, rebutting residents' claims that their bills were too high.

Foy said that "28 hours without power is little more than one day out of an entire billing cycle," and would have little impact in lowering the bill, and that last month's extreme heat would account for an increase.

She said that Thursday's meeting "is the first of several."

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