Van Hollen to Pepco: Enough is Enough
Feb 1, 2011 -
Today Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen sent a letter to Joseph Rigby, President & CEO of Pepco, regarding their handling of the recent storm and power outages. The text of the letter is below:
February 1, 2011
Mr. Joseph M. Rigby
President & Chief Executive Officer
Pepco Holdings, Inc.
701 9th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001-4572
Dear Mr. Rigby:
“Enough is enough” – that is the collective sentiment of my constituents in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties regarding Pepco’s abysmal handling of the recent storm and power outages. I share that sentiment. Simply put, Pepco’s performance has been unacceptable. This latest episode is part of a continuing problem. After each episode there are hearings, briefings, reports and promises of improved performance, yet nothing seems to change. It is time to change the leadership at Pepco. Individuals must be held accountable, and shareholders should not be paid dividends until these problems are resolved.
None of this is to diminish the hard work of the staff, and especially the outdoor work crews, who worked tirelessly in cold and icy conditions to restore electricity to homes, businesses, and medical facilities. The problem is not with the crews working around the clock. It is a broader, systemic failure. The problems include the following:
- Extent of the power outages: Many of my constituents have lived in numerous other cities, states and countries with far more severe winters, full tree canopies and, in some cases, far less development. Yet they all concur that they have never before experienced either the number of outages or the delays in restoring power that they encounter with Pepco.
- Delays in fully restoring power: While the frequency and extent of power outages are significant concerns, the amount of time it takes to fully restore power is equally problematic. This is especially true when, as has been reported in various news outlets, Pepco is compared to other local utilities. While the frequency and extent of power outages are significant concerns, the amount of time it takes to fully restore power is equally problematic. This is especially true when, as has been reported in various news outlets, Pepco is compared to other local utilities.
- Inadequacy of call system: Numerous residents were unsuccessful when calling Pepco’s 1-877-737-2662 hotline to report power outages and downed wires or to obtain a status update. They encountered busy signals, a voicemail system that was full, and dropped calls. When customers called Pepco a second or third time to check on their status, they were often advised that there was no record of their outage as having been previously reported. When these problems were mentioned during the daily briefings of elected officials, Pepco insisted that customers were improperly using the system.
- Priority for senior living facilities: Numerous senior living facilities lost their power with many not regaining power until Friday evening. Pepco advised me that it is not possible for Pepco to prioritize power restoration for these facilities, since they are spread throughout the grid. As I have previously urged, it is essential that these facilities have a designated Pepco contact for these types of situations and that they be given priority in power restoration.
- Outage map on Pepco website: The map proved to be virtually useless, with information being inaccurate and not adequately geographically specific. Indeed, at one point, the error-filled map was simply taken down by Pepco.
- Priority of downed wires: Pepco lists “downed live wires or potentially life-threatening situations” as its foremost priority. Yet I received numerous pleas from constituents with downed lines who had been calling Pepco repeatedly with no action taken. As late as four days later, my staff was informed by Pepco that one specific downed wire problem had not yet been assigned to a crew; other constituents with downed wires reported that the problems were still being addressed throughout the weekend.
After each storm, we have the ritualistic gnashing of teeth and calls for investigations from many area politicians. Many of us have tempered our statements in the past to give Pepco the opportunity to make its promised adjustments and changes. Nothing has worked. I strongly support calls for the Public Service Commission to conduct immediate hearings and legislation in Annapolis that would require enhanced reliability standards so as to allow utilities to be fined for poor performance. But in the near-term, it is time for a change of leadership and a complete overhaul of Pepco’s management.
Chris Van Hollen
Member of Congress