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Hurricane Irene was good for Pepco, terrible for BGE

Wednesday - 9/28/2011, 5:50pm  ET

pepco512.jpg
Reports provided to Prince George's County Council by BGE and Pepco (WTOP Photo/Kate Ryan.)

Power companies hope to recover cost of Hurricane Irene

WTOP's Kate Ryan reports

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WASHINGTON -- Pepco executives aren't used to hearing words of praise, but that's exactly what they got at a briefing before Prince George's County Council members Tuesday.

Councilmember Obie Patterson said his neighborhood suffered outages like many others during Hurricane Irene, but the response from Pepco was different this time around, and Patterson thanked Pepco for "improved service."

"When the electric came back on, we almost had a party out in the parking lot, we were so happy," he said.

County Council Chair Ingrid Turner summed it up when she congratulated Pepco Region President Thomas Graham, saying she knew the council had been tough on the utility in the past.

"Last time we were beating you up," she said.

"This is different. I like this," a smiling Graham interrupted.

Graham left the hearing room beaming, but not before telling the council that the utility company is "not done." They are determined to continue improving infrastructure and keep up with tree-trimming, he said.

But when BGE executives took their seats before the council, the tone shifted abruptly.

"I just find it to have been very unacceptable to have so many residents out for so long," councilmember Andrea Harrison said, shaking her head.

Councilmember Mary Lehman said she was contacted by a resident who called to report that a hot wire had erupted in flames and was hung up on by the call taker.

"What do you consider urgent if you don't consider a pole fire urgent, and how can you have people hanging up on a citizen that reports something like that?," she asked.

BGE's executives, including Senior Vice President Chris Burton, said they will review their performance, but pointed out that while Pepco had up to 227,000 outages, BGE was hit with 750,000.

Both utilities have said they will have to recoup their expenses.

BGE has calculated the cost of recovery from Hurricane Irene at $81 million, while Pepco officials say they are unsure of the figures at this time. It's likely that the next time the utilities apply to the Public Service Commission for a rate increase, the cost of the storm will be a factor.

WTOP's Kate Ryan contributed to this report.

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(Copyright 2011 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)