Category Archives: Pepco

Chevy Chase Grapples with Power Problems

Following a series of major outages and repeated poor service, the Town of Chevy Chase, particularly then-Mayor Pat Burda, worked closely with Pepco to improve the reliability of electricity in the Town. I was still on the Town Council at that point and the Council adopted my suggestion to establish a Power Reliability Task Force to examine alternatives.

The residents on the Task Force did a bang up job of assessing various potential alternatives and coming up with a plan of action for the Town in their official report. I stepped down before the Task Force began its work; Councilmember Vicky Taplin worked with the Task Force’s seven members who produced this unusually clear yet informative assessment. The Town was lucky to have citizen volunteers with such amazing expertise.

As reported by mymcmedia, burying the power lines is an unaffordable $60 million–minimum. Even if the Town buried the lines, it would still have to keep up the poles to carry other utilities or also pay them to bury their lines, resulting in additional substantial costs. As disruption often occurs due to breaks outside the Town, it’s also not clear how much benefit the Town would gain.

Nevertheless, despite tree trimming and other good improvements by Pepco such as installing tree wire, the main feeder line that serves 73% of the Town’s residents remains among the 3% worst in the State. Ironically, as the report explains, this is a case where bad news is good news:

During the September meeting with Pepco, the Task Force learned there was a high probability that at least circuit 14867 would be on the 2014 worst performing list, and the Task Force heard in early January that this is the case. The result of such bad news is good news indeed: Pepco will now undertake a systematic upgrade of this line in 2015. Work will be planned in the first quarter of the year, and should be executed in the second and third quarters. The Task Force therefore expects that the nearly three quarters of town residents on this line should see further improvements in reliability in 2016, following the completion of this up grade program.

The good news is that power reliability across Pepco’s broader service area has improved, though work still needs to be done to get to an acceptable level of reliability. My belief is that strong demands by residents played a key role in getting Pepco to address belatedly the serious decline in service reliability. Citizen watchdogs like Powerup Moco help make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Chevy Chase Town Council Meeting

In addition to writing this blog, I am one of the five members of the Town of Chevy Chase’s Town Council and the current Town Treasurer. The following is an unofficial summary of our meeting last Wednesday.

Executive Session

The Town Council met in closed session from 5:30-7pm to discuss (1) potential litigation as it relates to the Purple Line, (2) an Open Meetings Act complaint, and (3) a Maryland Public Information Act (MPIA) request.

Purple Line

Mayor Pat Burda made remarks on the Town’s actions regarding the Purple Line. Here is part of her statement:

I was quoted in the Washington Post as saying “the Town is not lobbying Congress.” The statement, which I attempted to clarify before it reached the printed Sunday Post, referred specifically to an inquiry about lobbying the Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.  I also said that it would be foolish to try to lobby Congress to defund the project given Senator Mikulski’s position as Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

To fully set the record straight, the Town is speaking to Members of Congress to raise the same concerns we raised with the Maryland Transportation Administration about the proposed Purple Line project.  It is our hope that through this effort of educating decision makers about the currently proposed Purple Line, that the Federal Transit Authority (FTA) will carefully consider all of the facts before them.

The Council was not ready to take action at this meeting, but plans on holding a special meeting next week at which it may take action. This meeting will be announced in advance and open to the public. All members of the Council thanked the Mayor for the incredible amount of time she has spent and hard work she has done on this issue.

Undergrounding Utilities—PEPCO Preliminary Cost Estimate

The Town received a letter from PEPCO dated February 6 which gave their preliminary estimate to bury the power lines in the town as:

 $50 million, not including undergrounding telecommunication lines, any upgrade work required by the customer, or installation of new street lights. Costs incurred by each customer would range from $5000 to $15,000 for meter box upgrades, burying services wires and internal electrical upgrades, if needed.

PEPCO has promised to provide a more detailed cost per mile estimate to the Town within two weeks that:

will consider actual Town street mileage of 9.94 miles (versus 10 miles) as well as physical conditions in the field, including Town street width, as it impacts excavation around other utilities and traffic control, and the number and location of existing public and private trees and landscaping.

PEPCO will also provide a price quote on the cost to the Town for PEPCO:

to perform a one line schematic and conduit schematic and conduit schematic in order to further refine the ‘costs per mile’ estimate.

The letter also reaffirmed that PEPCO will not help to pay for undergrounding the Town’s power lines:

As PEPCO officials indicated at the Town’s public meeting on December 5, 2013, the Town would be responsible for all costs associated with undergrounding electrical lines in the Town.

New Power Reliability Task Force

As we continue to explore the cost and benefits of undergrounding power lines, the Town needs to consider other options designed to address the very real concerns and frustrations of Town residents with the reliability of power service in the Town.

During the course of meetings on this topic, a number of residents with real knowledge and expertise on this topic offered innovative or alternative ideas. For example, some suggested that we should explore getting PEPCO to improve the robustness of the network by making it possible to shift electricity from one feeder to another when the power goes out. Another has suggested that the Town create a town-wide micro grid using large-scale fuel cells.

As a result, I proposed that the Mayor appoint a Task Force of residents to explore alternative reliability strategies. The Task Force could work with PEPCO and also make a proposal to the Town Council for outside expertise that would enable them to conduct their work more effectively. I was pleased that the Town Council approved the proposal unanimously.

I encourage anyone interested in participating in the Task Force to email the Mayor at townoffice@townofchevychase.org along with information about the expertise that you would bring to the Task Force.

Town Election Procedures

The Town Council voted 4-1 (with Councilmember Bickerman voting against) to adopt the Staff Proposal for the conduct of runoff Town elections in the event of tie. The runoff elections would occur in a similar manner to regular elections. Residents would be notified of the runoff via postcard and other Town communication methods. Over a 20-day period, residents could go vote in the Town Office or request a ballot via email which would be delivered to their home.

The Town Council decided 4-1 (with Councilmember Strom voting against) to not notify residents in the Forecast which incumbents will file to seek reelection.

Despite the division on the votes, most members of the Council did not feel especially strongly about either issue and were happy to reach a reasonable conclusion on both matters.

Meadow Lane Preliminary Landscaping Plan

The Council reviewed the preliminary plan for the public right-of-way along the former Li property on Meadow Lane. The Council agreed 4-0 (with Councilmember Bickerman abstaining) to move forward with the proposal. Councilmember Al Lang expressed that he felt it important to proceed with taking care of this matter and enhancing the pedestrian walkway and the right of way, as a plan along these lines was part of the promise by the Town to residents when the property was subdivided. The Council also expressed to the neighboring resident who attended the meeting that we would be happy to work with her on the nature of the plantings adjoining her property. The proposal is not designed or intended to facilitate public use of the private properties adjacent to the public right-of-way. If anything, the plan should have the opposite effect.

Early Adjournment

After quickly approving the minutes and the financial report, the Council adjourned at 8:30 as snow had already begun to fall.