BGE planning upgrades to ease Harford Co. power outages

Forest Hill residents lost power 9 times since May, 6 times in one weekend

August 02, 2011|By Liz F. Kay, The Baltimore Sun

Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. crews have installed temporary equipment and are planning permanent upgrades for a Harford County community after nine power outages that lasted for hours occurred since May.

Last week, workers installed and energized $1 million in new equipment both above and underground that should provide some short-term relief for the more than 300 Forest Hill households that have experienced the outages, according to BGE officials.

The utility is in the design and permitting phase for $5 million in upgrades that could begin as early as next year. But the work could be delayed during inclement weather, Foy said.

The frequent outages were a big problem for Joe and Dorene Schmidt, who live on Darlene Road off Grafton Shop Road. Their home is on a well, and so when the power goes out, so does the pump that provides running water.

"It's driving everyone crazy. Just think if you were in the middle of a shower and the water goes out," Dorene Schmidt said.

And after about eight hours, their phones stop working, too, she said. The couple have Verizon FiOS, and the company says its backup battery runs out after about eight hours. They don't have a cell phone but are considering getting one.

Mike Garzon, supervisor of BGE customer reliability support, confirmed that nine outages occurred — six of them during the hot days of July 22 through July 24. Those outages stemmed primarily from high demand due to the heat, he said. The largest group of residents affected experienced average outages of 7.7 hours, according to BGE.

Foy said BGE has limited options in this area for rerouting power to other lines when outages occur. Customers ended up being switched to lines that were already heavily loaded due to the high heat, she said.

The Schmidts said they first noticed problems when residents started moving into new developments nearby earlier this year.

"There has been growth, but that in and of itself is not the problem," Foy said. "Combine that with the increased temperatures and high usage, that's when you start to see problems developing."

The utility started developing a plan last year to address reliability issues that they identified in the area. Crews have already installed equipment along Boggs Road from High Point to Grafton Shop Road, Garzon said. As part of the future plan, they will replace cable, install a new transformer and create a new circuit that should address any load increases or new development, Garzon said.

The equipment will allow staff to switch customers who are out of service to new lines without sending a crew to the area, he said.

About 2,000 customers in the area will benefit from the improvements, Foy said.

BGE is planning a public meeting to discuss these changes with residents and to answer questions, but the utility has not scheduled the event, she said.

Other neighborhoods have also experienced repeated outages, which Foy said were heat-related. Kevin L. Bernhard, president of the Highlandtown Community Association in Baltimore, said residents in his community and parts of Patterson Park experienced two outages in July as well as one in May caused by a contractor who struck a cable.

At times, as many as 755 Highlandtown households experienced extended outages in July 2010, and BGE repaired equipment to address the problem.

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