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Facts, Opinion, Frustration at Hearing on BGE Reliability

Hundreds of people showed up at a hearing to share stories of power loss, frustration.

Early Tuesday morning, residents in several Ellicott City neighborhoods briefly lost power. 

The timing of the outage provided a brief reprieve of laughter during a three-hour hearing later that evening with the Public Service Commission in which residents discussed the ways they said unreliable power service had affected their lives.  

The hearing is part of a PSC  in some of the older Ellicott City neighborhoods.  

David Rubin has lived in the Font Hill neighborhood for two decades during which, he testified, he’s had “at least 100 outages from as brief as five seconds up to eight consecutive days, following .”

He told Public Utility Law Judge David L. Moore that power outages are particularly hazardous to his health because of sleep apnea, which requires the use of a BiPaAP machine, which helps him breath through the night.

“Ironically, I was awakened this very day at 6:12 a.m.,” he said, unable to finish his sentence as the 250 or so attendees broke out in applause and laughter.

He continued: “By a five-to-10-second outage. I looked out the window only to notice it was a beautiful day, with no noticeable wind at all.” 

About three hundred people signed up to speak at Tuesday night’s hearing and at least dozens more submitted written testimony.

Lost expectations, lost money, health hazards 

The PSC scheduled the hearing in response to a complaint (attached) filed by Cathy Eshmont, a Dunloggin resident who has spearheaded Reliability4HoCo in attempts to fix what she and residents of nearby neighborhoods say has been unreliable service by BGE.

Rubin was not the only person to testify about the health hazards of outages. Christa Bucks-Camacho said that she had gone through a medical notification process with BGE, filling out a form with a doctor’s note, alerting them to her disability.  “To this day,” she said, “BGE has yet to call my home or cell when the power goes out.” 

“It is nearly impossible to work, take the kids to school and go out to eat when my wheelchair is not charged,” she said.

Others testified about loss of expectations, money lost when power outages led to spoiled food, money spent on generators and gas, and, in an unexpected result of having solar panels, a loss of income when the sun is shining brightest.

“Interestingly, our solar panels are not allowed to function during a grid outage,” Lawrence G. Rendell testified. He and two other residents said that they lost potential income that they would have made by selling energy back to the grid. “Ironically,” he said, “after Hurricane Irene and the derecho … there were ideal generating days that were lost.”

Satisfaction

Two residents did address Moore to say that they were satisfied with the level of service they received. David Sikora, an Exelon employee (Exelon owns BGE) said that he had experienced outages during severe weather, but otherwise “reliability in my section of Beaverbrook is reasonable and sufficient.” 

Holly Lash, a BGE employee, said she has lived in Ellicott City for 24 years and lost power once, during Hurricane Isabel in 2003. “I’ve had extremely reliable power,” she said. “That’s all I have to share.” 

Asked if BGE had asked the two to testify, spokesman Rob Gould said the company had not. “Do I know them? Sure,” he said, but they testified as residents of a community that is home to plenty of BGE employees.

One of the recurring themes of testimony was the substantial tree cover – one of the reasons many people move to the more established communities in Ellicott City, many of which were noted in the complaint filed with the PSC.  

“No amount of tree trimming is going to ‘hurricane-proof’ this community,” Gould said. Other reasons for outages may not be as obvious as a tree knocking down a power line, he added. Cars into trees, animals on lines ... all, he said, can lead to disruptions in service.  

BGE is still in the process of implementing reliability improvement plans, Gould said. And though residents have charged that these improvements should have come proactively in areas that have unreliable service, BGE maintains there aren't any egregious reliability issues.

“Reliability in this area is above average,” Gould said, pointing to a line in the company’s formal response to the complaint (page 3, attached): “… it is important to note that [Cathy] Eshmont has not experienced a sustained outage since April 28, 2011 -not even as a result of Hurricane Irene in late August/early September of last year.” She did sustain a three-day outage after the derecho.  

“I’m not going to dismiss people’s opinions,” Gould said of residents’ portrayal of their service,  “but the PSC process is fact-based.”

Those facts will include testimony from several Ellicott City residents who repeatedly pointed out that while Howard County is the third-richest county, according to the U.S. Census, and, as often pointed out by local politicians, was voted the second best place to live by Money Magazine, it did not compare with utility services offered around the world.

One of several well-traveled Ellicott City residents to make comparisons was Robert Ostergaard, who said he had lived overseas in a number of different places for work. “We’ve had lots of experience with lots of grids,” he said.

Those experiences, included a year in Taiwan during which, he said “despite a typhoon, we didn’t have any outages.” Rural Yorkshire, the Australian outback, the list went on and nowhere, he testified, did he experience outages as frequently as he does when he’s living in Ellicott City. 

'Respect me'

Tuesday night's testimony, analysis of BGE data, evaluations of remediation programs and other evidence will be gathered into a report to be presented to the PSC board by the end of the year.  

“Obviously there are folks here with a lot of concerns,” Moore said after the hearing, “the commission will take those into consideration as it contemplates this case.”

More than taking their testimony into consideration, residents came with plenty of their own ideas for actions BGE could take, including burying more of the lines underground. Maryanne Maher, at the Font Hill Community Association, also asked for “adequate public engagement” to become the norm; annual reliability updates; and proactive use of more technologies.

Carol DeCarlucci, who said that her “dream” of moving to Dunloggin from Elkridge had turned into a nightmare because of the outages, had a direct request of BGE “I would appreciate it if BGE respected me the way I respect them by paying their bill every month on time.”

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This article has been edited to indicate Cathy Eshmont lives in Dunloggin.

Mary Ellen Cote July 25, 2012 at 11:21 AM
I think BGE and out of state helpers did a fantastic job. We were without power for 5 days (no water, either). This is actually how a large part of the world lives on a daily basis. Be thankful for your blessings and all that you have and offer up the hardships for those who have nothing. GREAT JOB BGE!
Dan July 25, 2012 at 12:55 PM
Terrible job, BGE! The funniest part is BGE says they do tree treemings. Has anyone actually ever seen this happen? There are pole after pole in this county where the lines are literally surrounded by huge trees, vines, etc, just waiting for some wind to come along. If you want a real laugh, go to BGE's tree trimming page and look at the roads scheduled for trimming. It's like taking a sip of water from a firehose. If BGE is serious about tree trimming, they need to hire all those contractors from Texas and Alabama to come back and go street by street and fix the issue.
HoCoRes11 July 25, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Great job, BGE linemen and linemen from out of the area! We are grateful for your assistance since BGE corporate doesn't seem to care about the pockets of neighborhoods throughout Howard County (and the entire BGE service area) who continually lose power.
Mary Ellen Cote July 25, 2012 at 09:44 PM
There are more problems here that BGE. Where is the county government in all of this. Are the grids overloaded. Is Columbia part of overload. Lots of people in a small area. Maybe Ho.Co. needs some updating. Still, be thankful for all that you have. If you have problems, go out and do something about them. Complaining won't fix anything.
Nicholas Aleshin July 25, 2012 at 10:43 PM
I too have sleep apnea, and cannot sleep -- literally -- without electricity. In 2010, a BGE representative told me that during the period April 2009 through March 2010 (a one-year period), my power went out forty-three (43) times. I didn't count the times, the BGE representative told me that from BGE's own records! As a retired Army officer I have lived in Panama, Germany, and was on a 6-week assignment to the USSR. In the United States, I have lived in New York, Georgia, Indiana, California, and Maryland. The absolute worst -- by far -- electrical power service I have received has been here in Maryland, from BGE.
Diane Butler July 26, 2012 at 12:44 AM
Interesting that this article highlights the two Columbia residents (who have their wires buries) as having no complaints about the company that employs them, whereas the other 300 people that were at the hearing were given short shrift in this article. Please, I was there at the hearing. This is not a good article about what was said at this hearing. Many, many, many articulate Howard County citizens brought up facts, ideas, helpful suggestions and lists of outages that we in the older neighborhoods suffer all the time. A lot more fairness for a very serious subject would be appreciated.
HoCoRes11 July 26, 2012 at 02:45 AM
A PSC judge heard testimony last night from people who have experienced problems for some time, after those residents successfully used a petition under MD Code 3-102 to invoke an investigation into service reliability. I would hardly classify that as simply "complaining" - they are trying to effect change. Yes, there were a couple BGE employees who testified that their power was reliable - how nice for them. Courtney Watson was in attendance, although neighborhoods testifying last night came from 3 different council districts.
Brandie Jefferson July 26, 2012 at 03:21 AM
Hi Diane, At least one of the people who was related to BGE lived in Beaverbrook, I didn't catch where the first person lived. If they were "highlighted," it was, in fact, because it was noteworty that, as you say, they were the only two who testified that they had no issues. With a limited amount of space, everyone's testimony cannot be included, but I did try to give a well-rounded view of the issues -- health, financial, emotional -- that the other residents testified about. If you feel that anything important was left out, please feel free to add that in the comments.
HoCoTeacher2 July 26, 2012 at 02:03 PM
I would like to thank the BGE crews who work out in "the trenches" to help us regain our electricity - we truly are grateful To Bob Gould and BGE...Mr. Gould's comment that "there are other areas that have much worse problems" than our pocket in Howard County is ridiculous. He thinks that's a good answer? It's pathetic. The fact that he would respond that way only shows that he as a representative of BGE could care less. Well, guess what Mr. Gould? WE aren't going away. This ISN'T about derechos or hurricanes. The problems of outages that we have in this area are ONGOING and NEVER ENDING and it's time that BGE use their profits to provide the service we are PAYING FOR. To quote a famous line..."We are mad as hell and we aren't going to take it anymore." To the BGE and Exelon employee (the ONLY 2 people out of 250 attending) who have "outstanding" service...your comments only PROVE how unwilling you are as representatives to listen to your customers pleas for help...I would respectfully ask that my community (which has underline wires) be connected to YOUR feeder - I think ours is broken.
HoCoTeacher2 July 26, 2012 at 02:04 PM
P.S. Our underline wires connect to a feeder that is ABOVE ground
Diane Butler July 26, 2012 at 04:16 PM
Hi Brandie, The other person lives on Fragile Sail Way which is in Columbia. The judge specifically quoted that this hearing was for people that were served by the lines represented by people that had signed the original petition. She had no business testifying as she was NOT on any line that was represented on this petition. She heard the instructions as clearly as everyone else at the hearing, yet chose to testify improperly, anyway. I thank you for the article but would like you to know how serious our situation is. 2-3 day outages cause financial strain, constant surges ruin our electronics, 8-9 day outages are unheard of in the United States, and ignoring our issues is unacceptable.
Gretchen July 30, 2012 at 08:58 PM
I've been looking back at what we've spent because of power outages over the last few years. Between ruined refrigerators and freezers full of food, eventual giving into purchasing a generator large enough to keep the freezers from warming up, restaurant meals, $2.50 an hour worth of gas to run the generators, extra starbucks purchases for spending more time in their store (powering up equipment while there), and other less expensive items... and NOT mentioning the illnesses or deaths that arose because of difficulties with generators, I figure I PERSONALLY spend about a dollar, for every $4 that I pay through the year for electrical service. The companies say it's too expensive to bury the lines? Well, too expensive to WHO? Not burying them is turning out to be more expensive to every individual customer out here (not to mention deadly to some, and I'm not going to put a price on those lives lost over these issues). Is anyone surprised that people who work for the company are not disappointed in the service? And to the person who keeps saying that we have it better than other places. Unfortunately, unless you're looking at a third world country, we do NOT have it much better. As others mention, other places do not have these problems. We pay some of the highest taxes in the country, someone needs to figure out how to pay to fix this. It needs to be a higher priority than building a new casino, for example, or holding a special session for casino building.
Diane Butler July 30, 2012 at 09:13 PM
Nice comment, Gretchen
John Hardy August 20, 2012 at 10:00 PM
Yes, kudos to the boots on the ground. As for the general performance of BGE operations managers and executives, Mary Ellen, I believe you may be living on a planet with more than one moon.

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