Tuesday, March 11, 2014 6:20 AM
Published on: Thursday, October 24, 2013
By Donna Broadway
BETHESDA - In 2012, the North American derecho knocked out power to 232,400 county residents and 50 of the county’s stoplights, and caused over 4,800 tons of debris in the county. It was the aftermath of the storm that caught Abbe Milstein’s attention. For over eight days, county residents were without power and many were under water restrictions.
“After the derecho hit last year, I was at a Barnes & Noble trying to power up my phone, and I had gone through a mental process of trying to understand why we didn’t have power and why after multiple calls to Pepco, I couldn’t get a response. People on my neighborhood pool lists were sending out emails about what was happening to them in regards to their lack of power, and that they didn’t have storage capacity for food, or they had medication that needed to be refrigerated, or that they had down power lines on their cars that when they contacted Pepco, they did nothing,” Milstein said. “In fact, multiple repeated calls to Pepco led us nowhere. There was a lot of frustration, anger and resentment, and I was sitting in the Barnes & Noble and I figured there had to be some people that were proactive with this issue and I felt immediately that this length of outage wasn’t a normal situation.”
After a week without power, Milstein, an attorney and stay-at-home mom, began an email list called Power Up Mont. The email list sends updates to its 300-plus subscribers every six to eight weeks with updates regarding power in the county. In December 2011, Pepco was fined over $1 million by the Power Service Commission for failing to properly maintain power lines, which the commission said led to prolonged outages for customers. Pepco did not challenge the fine.
On Nov. 6, the organization will host an educational forum with the AARP at the Bethesda North Marriott Hotel and Conference Center. Milstein has invited state candidates running in the 2014 elections. So far, most of the District 16 Maryland General Assembly members have been invited and have confirmed their attendance, Milstein says, and other candidates have confirmed their attendance or will send senior staffers to the forum.
“One of the issues regarding reliable power in Montgomery County and Pepco’s poor service, stems from (the fact) that a lot of people in Annapolis who represent us don’t have a deep understanding about utility police regulation and the Power Service Commission, and how it operates and how their votes impact certain issues that affect utility rate payers, so we decided to hold a forum that would educate them,” Milstein said. “The idea came out of the last general assembly session where many of Montgomery County’s delegation voted for House Bill 89 and Senate Bill 8, which was a gas tracker that bypassed the Public Service Commissions process for rate making and went straight to the legislature. When we saw that happen, we thought it was important that legislatures understood the process of the Public Service Commission and what it means to make a rate case and set rates.”
Councilman Roger Berliner (D-1), who has been a vocal opponent of Pepco, has confirmed his attendance at the forum.
“I think we have finally gotten Pepco’s attention and I think Pepco is making greater efforts,” Berliner said.
Berliner said he has not been advised on if he will be speaking at the forum.
According to Berliner, if Montgomery County decides to switch from Pepco, the county is only allowed to do so only with the permission of the Maryland General Assembly.
To sign up for the Power Up Mont email list or to attend the Power Up Mont forum, email firstname.lastname@example.org.