Is the Maryland Public Service Commission little more than a toothless tiger?
That’s what some are suggesting in the aftermath of the commission’s move to fine Pepco $1 million for failing to maintain its distribution system and innability to provide reliable electric service.
The $1-million fine is only a fraction of the $14.5 million sought by the Maryland Office of People’s Counsel, reported The Gazette on Dec. 21. It also follows on the heels of another rate increase request by Pepco that—if approved—would allow the utility to hike Maryland residents’ rates up by more than $68 million.
Montgomery County supports the $1-million fine, Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and County Council President Roger Berliner said in a joint statement on Dec. 22.
“In issuing [the] fine, the [commission] rejected Pepco’s excuses and stated that a larger fine or other additional penalties may be justifiable," Leggett and Berliner said.
"More importantly, the [commission] stated that it will not allow Pepco to charge customers for Pepco’s ‘imprudence’ in future rate setting cases. The [commission] also stated that additional penalties may be imposed if Pepco does not improve its reliability," they added.
The Maryland Public Service Commission blamed an inconsistent policy in trimming trees as the root of Pepco’s problems.
“Pepco’s history of inconsistent and sometimes contradictory tree trimming practices between 1999 and 2010 imposed more costs and outages on customers than otherwise would have been the case had the company adhered to one coherent strategy,” the commission's order asserted, reported The Washington Post on Dec. 21.
On the other hand, following last winter’s disastrous outage, Pepco has taken a much more proactive approach. Its officials have met with numerous community groups and the utility has sent battalions of repair trucks and contractors into nearly every neighborhood to make long-overdue upgrades and repairs.
And, Pepco isn’t exactly out of the woods just yet. The commission will require the utility to file a detailed five-year plan explaining precisely how it plans to improve customer service and the reliability of the distribution system.
The plan must be submitted by Feb. 21, The Post reported. If Pepco fails to do that, it faces stiffer fines.
What do you think? Is $1 million a reasonable fine to impose on Pepco? Or, is it a meaningless slap on the wrist?