Prince George's County residents had their opportunity to tell the Maryland Public Service Commission just how they thought Pepco handled the response to last month's derecho.
The night before, PSC officials endured a four-hour meeting in Rockville. That meeting saw a full house of residents registering their anger with the power company. Afterwards, Jerry Pasternak, Pepco regional vice president for Maryland affairs, told reporters that he understood the outrage expressed by customers before the PSC.
But last night's hearing at Prince George's Community College in Largo saw fewer people testifying before the PSC. While many expressed frustration and anger at Pepco's performance following the derecho and over the past few years, some said that the power company's critics were being unrealistic.
"You are going to have storms. There is no way to prepare for the magnitude of storms like the derecho," said county resident Larry Spriggs during the hearing. He called on area residents to be better prepared for outages and other emergencies. "I implore you to…help Pepco and educate the public about being prepared."
But Maryland state Sen. Jim Rosapeppe (D-District 21), said that Pepco and other regional power companies were out of touch if they thought their response to the derecho was adequate.
"That is not in touch with the reality that anyone experienced in Maryland," said Rosapeppe, who encouraged the PSC and Pepco to consider targeted burying of power lines to avoid outages caused by falling trees. "We look to you to bring reality back to the power companies."
Much of the testimony was directed against imminent and proposed rate increases which Pepco customers will have to absorb.
Last month, the PSC approved an $18 million rate increase requested by Pepco. That translates into about a $2.00 monthly increase to the average residential power customer.
"We cannot allow a company such as Pepco to keep going around and asking for rate hikes from people if they can't get the necessary power to get what they need" said Upper Marlboro resident Marc Sims to the PSC. "Pepco does not deserve rate increases."
Bob Bruninga, another county resident, did not take issue with Pepco as much as he did with local news media companies, which he said did not provide any useful information for residents whose power was out.
"They only report on the few thousand without power," said Bruninga. "They did not report on the many more thousands who got their power back in a reasonable amount of time."
But for Grace Kim, the derecho and the ensuing power outage reminded her of her native Korea, from where she immigrated after the Korean War, when post-war power outages were common as the nation was rebuilding.
"After the war, we had problems like now," said Kim to the PSC. "I live in the nation's capital in United States, but I feel like I'm living after the war in South Korea in 1950."
The hearings were the first of eight around the state to gather public feedback about how power companies responded following July's derecho.