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Pepco Gets Mixed Reviews For Hurricane Response

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Pepco officials say it's too difficult to pinpoint exactly when power will be restored.
Matt Bush
Pepco officials say it's too difficult to pinpoint exactly when power will be restored.

Thousands of Pepco customers remain without power Monday afternoon. Reactions from Maryland leaders to the beleaguered utility's work following Hurricane Irene have been mixed.

Following phone conversations with Montgomery County executive Isiah Leggett, Gov. Martin O'Malley gave Pepco's efforts a thumbs up.

"He and I both were very impressed with the speed with which Pepco was able to restore power," says O'Malley.

In the 24 hours following the storm, Pepco was able to restore power to two-thirds of the customers who lost it.

It was the first day of school in Montgomery County, and a handful of schools remained closed because they didn't have power. Superintendent Dr. Joshua Starr wouldn't criticize Pepco, but did say he wished all schools could have been open this morning.

"It's really important that we have a good relationship with [Pepco], and they understand that we are a top priority," says Starr. "I know they know how important we are to the county, and I'm sure they will continue to make us a top priority."

Montgomery County Council Vice President Roger Berliner was one of Pepco's harshest critics, saying the lower than expected number of power outages had more to do with Irene than with Pepco's much publicized changes.

"A weak system in a strong storm would not have been pretty for us," notes Berliner. "But it turned out it was a relatively weak storm hitting a weak system and we fared a lot better."

Pepco embarked on a plan to increase reliability following thunderstorms last summer that left some without power for a week. Berliner says the utility's plan is not enough, especially when it comes to upgrading its infrastructure.

"They sent the dollars to their parent company instead of investing in their system. So my hope is in September, the Maryland Public Service Commission will say to PEPCO 'Here are all the things you have to do. And by the way, your shareholders, not rate payers, will pick up the tab.'"

Before Irene hit last the week, the president of Pepco's parent company said the utility would not look to increase rates as a way to pay for higher costs from the storm.

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