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Montgomery County Faces Public Utility Company Debate

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A fallen tree and power lines after a severe storm hit the D.C. area last June.
Rebecca Cooper
A fallen tree and power lines after a severe storm hit the D.C. area last June.

After a weekend full of outages for thousands of Pepco customers, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner will meet this week with two groups that want to replace the utility with a publicly owned company.

Berliner will tell both groups things they probably don't want to hear, including that a public utility for Montgomery County is highly unlikely.

Berliner supports the idea, he says, because he does not believe Pepco will be able to improve its system to a level acceptable for county residents. But the county would need to get the General Assembly's approval before it could start its own utility and ditch Pepco.

"We can not do that without the state legislature blessing it," he says. "And I've been told by people who are very familiar with the workings that don't count on the state legislature giving Montgomery County that authority."

Pepco seems very confident it will not happen, Berliner adds. "Pepco officials have looked me straight in the eye and have said 'Roger, public power will never happen,'" he says. "So they may be right, in which case, we have to improve this system every which way we can."

At the very least, he's asking the General Assembly to allow the public utility issue to go to referendum, allowing Montgomery County voters to decide whether they want to keep Pepco or replace it with a public utility.

Berliner adds Pepco executives have told him they are confident that Montgomery County will never be allowed to start its own utility. Public utilities are not new to Maryland, as the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, or SMECO, serves four counties in the state.

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