O'Malley: Stronger Storms Mean Need for Stronger Power Grid
Public Service Commission plans hearings on Pepco's response to the June 29 storm.
This is the first of two articles based on comments by Gov. Martin O’Malley this week about Pepco, the Maryland Public Service Commission and the future of Maryland’s power grid.
Stronger storms than the region has seen in decades mean Maryland needs a stronger electrical grid—and that means the state’s Public Service Commission has work to do after it holds hearings next month, Gov. Martin O’Malley said during a stop this week in Rockville.
“I think there’s pretty broad consensus that the grid that we currently have is not as strong as it needs to be to weather the far more violent and frequent weather events that a warm atmosphere is going to be bringing for the foreseeable future,” O’Malley (D) said.
The PSC on Thursday announced plans to hold a public hearing on Pepco’s response to the June 29 storm at 7 p.m. on Aug. 7 in the third floor hearing room of the Montgomery County Council’s Stella B. Werner Council Office Building at 100 Maryland Ave. in Rockvillle. A second hearing on Pepco is scheduled for Aug. 8 at Rennie Forum at Prince George’s Community College, 301 Largo Road in Largo.
Changing perspective on power lines
O’Malley’s mother lives in a part of Rockville’s Fallsmead neighborhood where power lines are underground, he said. The neighborhood fared better in the June 29 storm than did other parts of the state, where hundreds of thousands were left without power. But it still saw major damage.
“In my old neighborhood of Rockville, where I grew up as a boy, old trees that I have known all my life were snapped in half like toothpicks,” he said.
In the course of an 11-minute media gaggle, O’Malley repeatedly mentioned that the storms in recent years have been more violent, saying that in his 49 years, “I’ve never seen a sort of violent windshield wiper storm like that just, kind of, whip across the region.”
The damage left by these violent storms could change the perspective on the need to take on expensive infrastructure upgrades, such as putting power lines underground, he said.
“What might not have been a wise cost proposal in terms of undergrounding in the weather of the 1980s, might actually be cheaper in the long run in the weather of 2010, 2015, 2020,” O’Malley said. “And that’s part of the reality that we need to wrestle with here.”
In a recent Patch readers poll, which went live while many were still without power around the state, 68 percent rated the storm response by Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric as “abysmal.” Thirty-one percent voted for the choice that said: “They are doing the best they can. This was a highly unusual storm.”
In the comments, readers both thanked utility crews and public safety workers and fumed at the utility companies.
Stephen Sears wrote: “I could answer ‘both’ to the poll. I'm sure they're doing the best they can, but it is abysmal nonetheless. Per usual, these hapless, leadership-challenged utilities refuse to acknowledge that they're supposed to provide reliable service for their paying customers.”
Rate increases and the challenge for the PSC
Meanwhile, a proposed Pepco rate increase of 4 percent on Maryland customers met opposition before the June 29 storm. The proposed hike would increase the average residential bill by $5.50 and would collect more than $67 million, The Washington Post reported.
Asked if Pepco should get the rate increase, O’Malley said he didn’t want “to presuppose the Public Service Commission,” adding: “It’d be mathematically inconsistent to insist on a greater level of investment and a lower rate of return.”
In September 2010, Pepco launched a five-year $910 million effort to strengthen power lines and trim trees.
“But there’s more that needs to be done,” O’Malley said. “I don’t think anybody believes it’s happening fast enough and frankly, there are some, in hindsight, who believe they should’ve been on to this prior to 2010."
What do you think of Gov. O'Malley's comments? Should the state push for undergrounding of power lines? Should Pepco get the requested rate increase? Does the Public Service Commission need to push utilities harder to upgrade the power grid? Tell us in the comments.