By Len Lazarick
BGE officials at a temporary regional command center in Odenton briefed Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown on Tuesday on their efforts to restore power to hundreds of thousands of homes in central Maryland after Tropical Storm Irene passed through.
Darryl Stokes, BGE vice president for engineering, told Brown that they hope to have electricity back for most customers by the end of the day Friday.
“We’re still looking for outside help,” Stokes said. “We had to reach out further west” for crews from other utilities in Alabama, Texas and Minnesota, with 500 workers on their way.
“We’re working as quickly as we can,” BGE President & CEO Kenneth DeFontes said. He said the more than 700,000 customers that lost power rivaled that of what occurred during Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
Asked why some homes didn’t lose power till Monday, a day after the storm went through, DeFontes said many of the trees fell after the storm passed and it could be something unrelated to the storm.
“We love our trees” that make Maryland so beautiful, DeFontes said, but many that fell in high winds were more 50 feet from power lines. “We’d have to clear two million trees” to keep the power lines from being vulnerable.
Putting all lines underground is “extraordinarily expensive,” he said. He pointed out that since 1969, “all new service is put underground.”
But he recognizes that residents are becoming impatient. “Customers want to know when I’m going to get my power back,” DeFontes said. He and his wife know the frustration first hand. He said they lost power in their home in Kingsville in Baltimore County for two days.
DeFontes called the storm repair “an incredible logistic challenge.”
“We started working this thing Wednesday,” DeFontes said.
“This is a frustrating period of time,” Brown told reporters. “It is difficult for people to be patient.”
But as he scanned a room with more than 30 BGE employees at scores of computer screens and on telephones coordinating work crews, Brown said, “No one is sitting on their hands.”
The political carping about BGE’s response has already begun, with Del. Pat McDonough, a potential U.S. Senate candidate, demanding a full review by the Public Service Commission.
“During the past 10 years, Constellation-BGE has drastically reduced the number of skilled, experienced employees who specialize in system line inspection, tree trimming management, repair, and other pertinent skilled areas related to maintaining the system,” McDonough charged in a letter to PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian. “It is my belief that the short-sighted manpower reductions have resulted in Constellation-BGE not being ‘Storm Ready.’ ”