Work group: Higher fines, more oversight for Pepco

In its final report, the Montgomery County’s Pepco Work Group outlined steps both the utility company and government should take to address repeated power outages. Among the recommendations is leveling significant fines on Pepco and improving state oversight.

The group,{ }appointed last October by County Executive Ike Leggett, made more than 50 recommendations, including:

• The Maryland Public Service Commission should establish stringent standards and level fines if Pepco doesn’t meet those standards. "While much needs to be accomplished, largely by Pepco itself, the single most important action that can be taken by those outside the company is to establish a carefully considered, aggressive package of financial incentives and punishments,” the group's chairman, Norman Augustine, wrote in a letter to Leggett. The state needs to ensure the commission is appropriately staffed, the report recommends.

• Pepco should adopt, fund and execute a multi-year plan for system inspection, maintenance and enhancement to replace its current program, which the group calls “largely reactive.” Pepco's own proposed plan isn’t sufficient, the group said.

• Pepco should inform customers timely during outages

• The power provider’s parent company, Pepco Holdings, Inc., should establish an ombudsman that reports directly to the Chairman and CEO to address customer complaints

“While we may differ with certain findings mentioned in the report, many of the findings and conclusions are reflective of work we have under way as part of the Reliability Enhancement Plan,” Joseph M. Rigby, Chairman, President and CEO of Pepco Holdings, Inc., said in a statement distributed by the company. “Pepco agrees that greater clarity of authority is needed with respect to vegetation management on private property,” the statement continues.

Leggett said the report provides a foundation for working with Pepco to ensure reliable and affordable service. “I am pleased with the blueprint that this report presents for action,” he said in a statement.

The work group was appointed last October by Leggett to investigate causes of electricity outages in Montgomery County. The report includes 30 recommendations for Pepco, six to local government and 20 for the Maryland Public Services Commission that regulates public utilities in the state.