Reliability standards for electric utilities: what do you think?

March 28, 2011|By Liz F. Kay

As we've told you before, state legislators and regulators are trying to design service reliability standards for Maryland's electric utilities intended to establish what's expected from the companies in terms of tree trimming, customer service and response to outages caused by storms.

Now the Maryland Public Service Commission has set up a work group to hammer out what should be included, such as penalties for *not* meeting the standards as well as a cost-benefit analysis.

These debates, taking place in the state house and in the PSC chambers, began because your friends and neighbors --- particularly those in the Washington suburbs --- have submitted complaints about extended outages that for days forced businesses to shut down and residents to move to hotels.

Utility officials have said that the standards originally proposed by the Maryland Public Service Commission will certainly cause electric bills to increase.

But legislators such as Del. Brian Feldman of Montgomery County counter that this is part of the company's mandate to provide safe and reliable service.

There's more than just bills at stake, though. Utilities often say falling trees and tree branches cause the majority of outages in both foul and fair weather --- but property owners often fight against utility attempts to cut down mature trees.

I can see how it would be tough to convince a homeowner that aggressive trimming is necessary --- particularly since tree cover provides a benefit in the summer by blocking sunlight and reducing the need for air-conditioning.

But I'm not sure that's a cost-effective decision if the alternative means replacing a fridge full of groceries after a storm takes down wires.

How do you feel about creating service quality mandates for electric utilities? Would you be willing to pay for more tree trimming? What other solutions should regulators and legislators be considering? Let us know in the comments below.

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