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BGE Derecho Response Criticized During Council Hearing

Residents and council members told the utility company its response after the June storm was unacceptable.

A City Council committee hearing on the lessons BGE learned from the June derecho, which left thousands without power, gave residents and council members a venue to vent their frustration.

The Housing and Community Development Committee held a hearing on Wednesday night with representatives from the utility company, as well as city agencies to discuss how to prevent problems resulting from strong storms in the future.

"My object in this was to come out of this with solutions for the identified problem areas in my district, get them solved, get them upgraded, lets do it now," Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke said following the hearing. 

Stephen Woerner, BGE’s chief operating officer, represented the company during the hearing. He defended BGE’s response to the storm, saying that recovery efforts were hampered because there was no time to prepare for the storm, and because extremely hot temperatures slowed crews’ efficiency.

"[Some] of the challenges we had were the late arrival of external groups and the heat," Woerner said.

Reading from a power point presentation, Woerner told the committee the average time it took to restore a customer who lost power in the city was 43.6 hours, and that 48 percent of the more than 186,000 residents who lost power were restored within 48 hours.

But Woerner acknowledged that in the days immediately following the storm that power restoration in the city lagged behind other jurisdictions, but said once that became apparent that the company caught the city up with surrounding areas.

A chart included in the presentation shows the city was behind in the restoration rate from almost immediatly after the storm hit on June 29, and didn't catch up with other jurisdictions until July 4.

The fact that the city fell behind other jurisdictions in having its power restored was a subject that didn’t sit well with Clarke and Councilman Nick Mosby, who told Woerner that was unacceptable.

"I was everywhere. It wasn’t the blizzard I could drive around. I couldn’t find a [BGE] truck," Clarke said.

Residents also expressed their dismay when they testified before the committee.

Genny Dill, of Hampden, was critical of BGE’s inability to communicate with residents about what was going on as far as restoring power, and said the Hampden Community Council had to fend for itself in trying to identify neighbors that were powerless.

"The only information we got from BGE was garbage," Dill said.

Phil Spevak, of Roland Park, told the committee that BGE needs to examine its infrastructure, and make efforts to improve before the next weather event. Spevak said the system in his neighborhood is already struggling, and said there was a group of 53 homes that lost power in the derecho, but have lost it twice since and the whether was not a factor.

"I think this storm illustrated an ineffective response for an event of that magnitude," Spevak said.

During the meeting BGE representatives told the council that they are going to look at burying more power lines underground, but putting all of its city infrastructure below ground is too expensive.  

Company representatives also said they hope to unveil a new mapping feature on its website by the end of the year, which residents will be able to access on smart phones to report power outages, and get a better view of where their neighborhood stands in terms of restoration.

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