Residents voice frustrations over BGE response to derecho

Public Service Commission to use input at Annapolis hearing and others in review of utilities' storm response

  • Ruth Walters, 75, speaks during a hearing before the Maryland Public Service Commission on Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s response to the June 30 derecho storm.
Ruth Walters, 75, speaks during a hearing before the Maryland… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
August 13, 2012|By Kevin Rector, The Baltimore Sun

About 50 residents of Anne Arundel County and surrounding areas gathered at a Public Service Commission hearing Monday night in Annapolis to voice their frustrations withBaltimore Gas and Electric Co.'s response to the June 29 derecho storm.

They railed against the company, accusing it of failing to restore power to their homes for days after the deadly, quick-moving storm, providing them with little information as to when power would return and failing to upgrade dated infrastructure in their neighborhoods.

"I've lived in Third World countries, I've lived in rural Mississippi, I've lived behind the Iron Curtain, and have never, ever experienced the poor power supply that we have here in Annapolis," Dave Bastian said. "And it has only gotten much worse in recent years."

The hearing, before PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian and three other members of the commission, was the third of eight planned as part of the regulator's review of local utilities' performance after the storm, which knocked out power for more than 762,000 BGE customers.

The average outage lasted 38 hours, and BGE struggled to immediately find contractors to help with the repairs because other areas of the country were hit by the storm as well, according to a BGE report to the PSC.

"Obviously, there are concerns that customers are sharing, and we want to hear that," BGE spokesman Rob Gould said. "At the end of the day, we're going to learn from this storm, and we're going to learn from customers' concerns."

Gould said BGE crews restored power to customers at a rate similar to that after Hurricane Irene last year, but with far fewer workers.

"You can always improve, but that tells me there were some lessons learned," Gould said.

At least one resident at the hearing said BGE should be "cut some slack" for how it handled the freak storm, for which there was little warning. A number of residents thanked the PSC members for holding the meeting. Most urged the regulators to do more to hold BGE accountable and demand more reliability.

"We leave all these customers out here to suffer while the PSC awards a company for doing nothing?" Jason Kammerdiener of Arnold said of BGE's pending request to increase rates.

"I find it comical when you call BGE's customer service. It's at best comical," Kammerdiener said. "You can't get an update. You can't get any guidance."

John Kokish, his neighbor, said the area's "underlying issue of chronic shortages in electricity generation cannot be corrected with a Band-Aid approach when major surgery is needed."

Residents shared stories of having to throw out hundreds of dollars' worth of frozen food and move disabled relatives and friends into hotel rooms because the heat in the days following the storm was too much to handle without air conditioning.

Some residents requested the PSC require BGE to bury power lines. Others said tree trimming alone is not the answer.

"I don't for a minute believe that the problems that BGE faces are in those treetops," said Kokish, who went five days without power. "I believe that the problem they face is that which the people in India are facing, and that is a rickety basic infrastructure. They need to make reforms."

Anne Arundel County Executive John R. Leopold also spoke at the hearing, saying BGE did a poor job communicating with county emergency and fire crews after the storm and should invest in new technology that would allow it to provide county officials with real-time maps of problems to their infrastructure.

County officials weren't told where outages were, and fire crews couldn't get information about roads blocked by downed live wires, which created a public safety hazard, Leopold said.

The PSC will use the input from customers at all eight meetings in its review of the utilities, a routine step after large outages.

Utilities officials are scheduled to appear before the commission next month for hearings to defend their storm response.

Hearing schedule

Hearings are also scheduled this week, all at 7 p.m., in the following locations:

•Tuesday: Paul C. Wolman Assembly Room of the War Memorial Building, 101 N. Gay St. in Baltimore

•Wednesday: Banneker Room of the George Howard Building, 3430 Courthouse Drive in Ellicott City

•Thursday: Hearing Room 106 of the Baltimore County office building at 111 W. Chesapeake Ave. in Towson

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