Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley is endorsing a plan that would add "one to two dollars a month" to consumer electric bills. The extra money would allow electric companies to speed up projects designed to improve reliability.
Pepco's reliability problems have existed for years, but in the last two years, with Snowmageddon, then Hurricane Irene, then the surprise "derecho" storm, re-connection efforts were particularly slow.
Pepco has promised to spend more on hardening its electric grid, but given the utility's record, the state's Public Service Commission in July allowed only a limited rate hike for the electric company. The PSC also fined Pepco $1 million.
A 130-page report from a governor's task force has concluded that utility efforts are still falling short. Gov. O'Malley told reporters in Annapolis, "An electric grid that served well in the storm events in the 1980s is not a grid that is reliable in the more violent and frequent storms that we have now."
O'Malley estimates $1 to $2 a month per household will not only speed up the tree-trimming around power lines, but also allow "some selected undergrounding, and some other engineering fixes that are different for every portion of the service area."
To get the extra dollar or two a month, the utility would have to lay out a plan before the Public Service Commission to accelerate reliability strategies.
What do ratepayers think? We found a very mixed reaction in Montgomery County, which has been hard hit in the last two years.
Sara Gray is a skeptic: "We pay a lot of money to Pepco every month as is, so giving them more isn't necessarily the answer."
Brendan Foley is another skeptic: "It's not my fault that they haven't built power lines the right way."
On principle, Foley said he would prefer not to pay more money to Pepco.
Carlos Guarin has a similar view: "I think we are paying enough."
"If it goes toward what it's supposed to be going towards, I feel that we should do it," said Linda Chernak. "Otherwise, [improving reliability] is not going to be taken care of. And we're just going to have problems further down the road."
Crystal Pittman agrees.
"An extra dollar or two a month would be worth reliability. Most definitely," she says.
Another recommendation in the task force report: the Public Service Commission should penalize utilities that fail to hit reliability benchmarks.
Pepco's response: "We agree with the general tone and direction in the report."
A spokeswoman for the electric utility said her company will work with the PSC to implement the recommendations.