WASHINGTON - When the lights go out, power companies call for outside help. During the derecho, Pepco had crews from as far away as Canada pitching in. That raises a question: Does Pepco have enough repair crews?
Jim Griffin from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1900 - the union that represents the people who repair overhead lines - says Pepco currently has 123 line mechanics with varied training and experience.
"Of these, 29 have just enough qualifications to restore service to homes from poles on the street," Griffin says.
But David Velazquez, executive vice president of Pepco Holdings, says there are 147 line mechanics on the job, including equipment operators and cable mechanics who were used during the storms.
"Since 2010, we've hired 155 line and other craft resources, and have made commitments to hire at least 35 more," Velazquez says.
Griffin gave a different account of hiring at Pepco.
"Pepco notified Local 1900 in late April of this year that it had enacted a hiring freeze, even though Pepco had agreed last year to fill an additional 35 positions through June of 2013," Griffin says. "This is too little and too late."
The union is in negotiations with Pepco. Both men appeared at a D.C. Council committee hearing, where Pepco's looking for a $42 million rate increase. PEPCO has also asked for a rate increase of more than $60 million in Maryland. A decision in that case is expected before July 20.
A team of Pepco executives sat and listened for hours as residents vented:
"The outages continue to increase in scope and duration."
"Pepco doesn't deserve one more penny."
"Pepco is greedy. It places corporate greed over the poor people's need."
Even those who praised Pepco for making improvements added qualifiers.
"We still live in fear when storms approach that we may lose power at any time."
Pepco's attempts at establishing better public relations didn't go over well, either.
"You know, just stop. Just stop. We don't want to hear this."
What rate payers want, says resident Kathy Henderson, is reliable service - something Pepco executives say they're working towards.
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