When did BGE seriously start 'continually investing' in measures that provide safe and reliable power? There's very little evidence that much of anything was done to identify and fix the causes of unreliability prior to the community meetings demanded by BGE customers in Dunloggin, Font Hill, Beaverbrook, and other areas which were held beginning in mid-2011. Before such meetings, BGE was already fully aware of our power problems (it keeps automated outage data on each of our addresses), but had still failed to proactively deliver any plan for improvement. BGE's open letter is only concerned with vegetation management. What about the various other actions BGE could be taking to improve reliability?
By BGE engineers' own admission at the November 2011 Font Hill Community meeting, in the 10 years since 'smart fuses' became industry standard equipment to prevent power outages in the presence of tree canopy, they still hadn't been installed in the very communities that had tree canopy and overhead lines, and which had suffered frequent outages from limbs striking power lines. How many other communities throughout BGE's service region still haven't received their 'smart fuses'? What other industry standard tools does BGE have access to that it has failed to utilize? Considering that BGE didn't proactively roll out 'smart fuses', it's quite likely there are other readily available beneficial products or techniques that we've never been made aware of due to BGE's lack of openness with its customers.
Another issue which arose from Thursday night's hearing in Baltimore County, that wasn't addressed by the Baltimore Sun, but rather by a citizen-advocate in attendance who provided his own report. We learned that out-of-state crews assisting BGE in restoration efforts informed Towson residents that BGE power lines have a high number of splices, which is an indication that they are very old. Regarding the specific BGE lines these out-of-state crew worked on, these crews told the homeowners that they believed them to be the ORIGINAL LINES installed back in the 1940's -- 70 years ago! According to the tax code, the depreciation schedule affords power lines a Class Life of 30 years, meaning that these lines depreciated to zero value 40 years ago but have likely never been replaced. In the affected neighborhoods in Howard County, the power lines with the greatest problems are now 40 years and older. Could this be one of the reasons why we're having so many reliability problems?
BGE's track record is one of collecting fees, including the upkeep fees in everybody's bills every month, but then failing to invest in the infrastructure. There's the issue of technology that exists that BGE doesn't proactively deploy; and there's the issue of the aged lines and all the splices as just two examples. The reference in the open letter to how much more BGE is now spending on tree trimming is a laughable increase to a multi-billion dollar corporation. Please put references to increased spending on vegetation management in the context of how much money BGE is bringing in that's earmarked for upkeep fees (more than 2.5 cents/kilowatt hour + $7.50 per bill times 1.24 million customers EACH MONTH), and give us a full accounting of how BGE is spending the money that's meant for infrastructure upgrades and other work. From a sound business perspective, there's no excuse for not budgeting for a major storm per year from all the fees the PSC says BGE is entitled to; why is every major storm a justification for BGE to come back asking to be reimbursed?
The open letter referenced the new Reliability Standard which recently took effect in Maryland. Many of us believe that the percentages included in the language of the Standard were handpicked by BGE, Pepco, and other utilities across the State to ensure that small, residential pockets of chronic outages can continue even as the new Standard is kept. This will mean the continued suffering of thousands of residential customers across the State who BGE and other utilities assigned to historically unreliable feeders. All of us can still be out of power, but BGE will be able to adhere to the Standard and avoid a fine. How about a pledge that BGE will refund the money received from Revenue Decoupling? Why should BGE financially benefit from its own failure to provide reliable power even as customers are out purchasing hotel rooms and new groceries?
When BGE decides to be open and honest with us, we will welcome a new chapter in our relationship. Until then, such 'open letters' ring hollow, and we will continue to challenge BGE's track record, and hold the PSC and government at all levels accountable for giving us citizens the first class, reliable power that we have all been paying for.