Officials from AARP Maryland want utility companies held accountable for the lack of communication and slow response time in recovering from the weekend power outages.
Although almost 75 percent of Maryland residents have had their power restored, many remain in the dark, including some with the greatest need for power — the elderly.
The death toll from the derecho storm and subsequent power outages in Maryland on June 29 has reach eight, according to Gov. Martin O’ Malley. Of the seven deaths, four were heat-related, O’Malley reported Tuesday. He said the elderly were particularly vulnerable.
More heat-related deaths are expected as crews slowly restore power to the state, said Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Joshua Sharfstein.
In a letter to Maryland Public Service Commission (PSC), the AARP asked that utility companies like Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric (BG&E) be required to develop and submit a restoration plan, which is then reviewed by the PSC and the public.
“Why are Pepco’s restoration efforts as volatile and unpredictable as the storm?” AARP Maryland State Director Hank Greenberg asked in his letter to the PSC, responding to Pepco’s note to customers stating that some residents would have to wait until Friday, July 7, to get power back.
Greenberg e-mailed Patch Tuesday evening explaining their push for answers from power companies saying that telling customers it'll take a week to restore power without any other updates or answers is "woefully inadequate":
AARP MD is very concerned about the impact that the excessive heat is having, particularly on vulnerable people, including children and older Marylanders.
We are asking our volunteers to check on friends and relatives who may need help. Just last night, an AARP MD staff member invited a neighboring family that she saw sleeping in their car to come to her home that was without electricity but with a generator.
PSC Chair Douglas R.M. Nazarin told Patch on Tuesday that a challenge power companies had this time was that the weather changed quickly.
"When this storm came up, everyone didn’t think Friday's storm would be a big deal," Nazarin said. But, when the storm hit the Ohio Valley and West Virginia, he said, the companies realized it was a large-scale storm making it difficult to get out-of-state help quickly.
Nazarin said that the companies will be held accountable for any mistakes and delays in restoration, but when there is severe weather there is no specific regulation on how long it should take companies to restore power.
"At this point in the life of this we’re not grading anyone yet," he said, adding that the companies will have to submit a report within 21 days of the event with data and metrics on their restoration effort. The PSC staff will go over those reports in detail and may even host a public hearing.
Even after the PSC hosted a series of public hearings in January 2011 on utility companies’ response times and lack of communication, some residents said they still felt ignored.
In a Patch poll, 66 percent of those who voted said they don’t believe Pepco or BG&E’s service has improved.
Patch reader Troy said he’s been without power in Takoma Park since 10:45 p.m. Friday.
“After the snowstorm which left us without power for days, PEPCO indicated that things would be different," he wrote. "They indicated that part of the problem was bad weather limited their restoration efforts because of bad snow and ice. PEPCO's system currently says our power like everyone else's will be restored by July 6 at 11 pm. And this time we don't have snow or ice.”
He added that he doesn’t know if the new smart meters, which were installed to help identify issues, are helping.
Henriot St. Gerard, a Patch blogger from Wheaton, wrote that although his power was restored Sunday, he is concerned that so many remain without power.
“Considering that Pepco has experienced enough of these events to be better prepared to quickly respond, they continue to fail residents time and time again,” St. Gerard added.
Some residents suggested that the government take on some precautions, such as burying power lines every time it re-paves a road.
Others, however, understood the intensity of the storm and said companies are doing their best to restore power quickly.
“This was a horrific storm that has effected millions of people throughout the metro area. I give my thanks and thumbs up for all the workers that have been laboring in the extreme heat 'round the clock' to restore power,” Sally Williams, of Bowie, wrote.
Nazarin also said that facilities like hospitals, nursing homes, and senior living facilities are flagged for early service. However, those senior citizens living in homes by themselves may not be flagged in the utility system. Residents should check on elderly neighbors, officials said.
He noted that PSC has done a lot of work with utility companies to improve services and keep the systems reliable over the past two years by adopting new methods and regulations and fining when necessary.
"I think going into this storm, they were in better shape then they have been in the past, but we’re going to find out after what there is to learn on this individual restoration effort," he added.
Pepco Spokewoman Courtney Norgas responded by saying, "Our focus right now is restoring power to our customers as quickly and safely as possible."
BG&E was contacted for comment. Their response will be added to this post, if received.