CORRECTION: Councilmember Roger Berliner is not a member of the Energy Future Coalition, as we erroneously reported. We apologize for the error.
Montgomery County Councilmember Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda) today filed a formal pleading with the state’s Public Service Commission to implement a utility pilot program that would include power micro-grids and adjustable rates based on how a utility company performs.
Berliner, an energy lawyer, has been exploring a pilot program called Utility 2.0. He watched the work of the Energy Future Coalition, tasked by Governor Martin O’Malley’s Grid Resiliency Task Force with providing recommendations for implementing the program by last month.
The report is included in Berliner’s filing with the PSC, which has total control of regulating utility companies in the state.
Berliner has frequently challenged Pepco on its reliability performance and last year held a Council Committee session on the pilot. He argued it will lead to a more efficient, sustainable and reliable electric system that could include local micro-grids powered by solar means, biogas and gas fired cogeneration.
The recommendations for the pilot also include performance-based ratemaking, which would “align the financial returns of utilities with how it performs on key metrics.” The Energy Future Coalition also recommended utility-provided cost vouchers in exchange for customers allowing the utility to manage the charging of their electric vehicles.
From Berliner’s statement today:
But the institutional challenges are real. As EFC observed, while the technology exists to support a revolution in utility service, our regulatory model is a vestige of century-old thinking and our utilities are inherently conservative and not innovators. It is the job of our state regulators who have 100 percent control over our utilities to ensure that we fully grasp the benefits of a transformed utility system. I urge them to accept this challenge and move Montgomery County and Maryland forward.
The PSC held a public hearing last week about Pepco’s request for a rate hike to help pay for infrastructure repairs. Many said funding for those repairs should come from the company’s profits, not from a proposed $60.8 million a year revenue bump that would cost the average residential customer $7.13 more each month.
Residents Argue Against Pepco Rate Hike — At a public hearing last week in Rockville, many said the power company’s desired infrastructure repairs should come from profits, not from a $60.8 million a year revenue bump that would cost the average residential customer $7.13 more each month. [The Gazette]
Gun Turn-In Day Nets 111 Guns, 1 Grenade — Montgomery County’s Gun Turn-In Day resulted in the turn-in of 69 handguns, 27 rifles, 15 shotguns, one grenade, 11 BB guns, one sword and about 10,000 rounds of ammunition, according to police. A donation for each gun turned in will be made to the University of Maryland Medical Center’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore. [Montgomery County Police]
Maryland Ranked 41st For Business, According To Survey — The Connecticut-based Chief Executive Group recently ranked Maryland 41st in the country for best states to do business in because of tax increases and proposals to raise the minimum wage and make paid sick leave mandatory. Forbes’ most recent state rankings put Maryland at No. 16 due to its labor supply and quality of life. [Washington Examiner]
Bus Rapid Transit Debate Restarts This Week — The Planning Board’s Public Hearing on dedicating traffic lanes exclusively to a Bus Rapid Transit network is Thursday and Greater Greater Washington/Just Up The Pike/Friends of White Flint blogger Dan Reed last week wrote about why he thinks the county should say yes to the proposal. [Greater Greater Washington]
Flickr photo by ehpien
A utility pole explosion on Sunday afternoon left some residents and businesses near Wisconsin Avenue and Battery Lane without power.
Witnesses reported hearing two explosions almost 30 seconds apart near the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Battery Lane, where small flames could be seen coming from a transformer on a pole.
Pepco’s outage map reported 714 customers without power at 5:05 p.m. in Woodmont Triangle and east of Wisconsin Avenue into the neighborhoods backing up to Columbia Country Club. It is unknown if the transformer explosion at Battery Lane is the sole cause of the outage.
The outage map shows two estimated restoration times for the outage, 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.
In a formal filing with the Maryland Public Service Commission (see PDF below) Berliner argued modernization should be included in the PSC’s recent effort to make utilities more reliable by requiring short-term and long-term reliability plans.
Berliner, an energy lawyer, has frequently taken on Pepco and last year held a Committee session on “Utility 2.0,” a more efficient, sustainable and reliable electric system that could include local micro-grids powered by solar means, biogas and gas fired cogeneration.
“There should be little debate over the fact that we need a very different kind of utility service. Our current system was born of a different era. Not only is the infrastructure antiquated, the utility paradigm itself is antiquated. Both the business model and the regulatory structure are sorely out of date. In an era of smart phones, we have the equivalent of the old, black rotary phone. It is sometimes said that if Alexander Graham Bell came back in time, he would have a hard time recognizing a phone. Not so with Thomas Edison — it would look all too familiar,” Berliner wrote to the PSC.
The PSC controls regulations for utilities such as Pepco, an investor-owned company that operates in Montgomery County, Prince George’s County and Washington D.C.
“We need a new system that would make Steve Jobs proud. That will require bold changes in the conservative culture of utilities and regulators alike. The technology exists. It is the institutional barriers that must be overcome to put consumers in control and to create a much more reliable, cleaner, and energy efficient grid,” Berliner added.
In the filing, Berliner cites a recent visit to the Food and Drug Administration campus in Silver Spring, which operates on a micro-grid powered with solar power and gas-fired cogeneration. The campus claims the grid has achieved 99.999 percent reliability over the past year and extra power can be sold into the surrounding grid.
Berliner would like to see the PSC allow Montgomery County to pilot a microgrid system in a residential neighborhood.
He also proposed smart meters that would more efficiently use power and dynamic pricing that would allow consumers to save money, as opposed to flat rates.
O’Malley Introduces Gas Tax Hike For Transportation Funding — Gov. Martin O’Malley (D), with the support of House Speaker Michael Busch (D) and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D), last night introduced a transportation funding plan that would raise the sales tax of wholesale gas, thus raising gas prices an estimated 2 cents per gallon starting in July and an additional 7 cents more next July. Leaders argued the money was necessary to match federal funding for the Purple Line. [Washington Post] [Baltimore Sun] [Washington Examiner]
Pepco Says It’s Ready For Snow — The power company said it has more than 450 overhead line contractors ready to deal with the three to eight inches of snow projected for the inner D.C. suburbs and the as much as 17 inches projected for western areas of Montgomery County. Pepco is also asking for 250 mutual assistance crews from other utilities and says it has almost 300 tree contractors already working. [Pepco]
MoCo Examining Intersection After Accident With Bethesda Elementary Student — County transportation officials are focusing on the intersection of Arlington Road and Edgemoor Lane, near Bethesda Elementary School, after a student-involved pedestrian collision there last week. The student wasn’t injured, according to police. There were few details on the nature of the collision. [Bethesda Patch]
Glen Echo Popcorn Gallery To Feature Pottery — From April 6 to May 5, Glen Echo Park’s Popcorn Gallery will feature “2013: From the Fire,” an exhibition of pottery work from Glen Echo art instructors and advanced students. The gallery (7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo) is open Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. and by special arrangement.
Flickr photo by ehpien
Post Fitness Columnist: Capital Crescent Trail With Purple Line Wouldn’t Be The Same — Washington Post fitness columnist Lenny Bernstein praises the Capital Crescent Trail as a unique running and cycling route for such an urban area, one that he feels wouldn’t be as attractive if reduced to a 12-foot-wide paved path alongside the planned Purple Line light rail. [Washington Post]
State Public Service Commission Orders Utilities To Improve Reliability — The Maryland Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities such as the oft-criticized Pepco electric company, on Wednesday issued an order for utilities to come up with a reliability improvement plan by May 31, among other improvements. [The Gazette]
Reminder: Willard Avenue Park Meeting Tonight — Montgomery Parks is hosting a public meeting to discuss its planned changes for the Willard Avenue Neighborhood Park, set for tonight at 7 p.m. [Montgomery Parks]
Montgomery’s Office of Consumer Protection To Join In On ‘Consumer Protection Week’ — Montgomery County’s Office of Consumer Protection, one of just two county-level consumer protection agencies in Maryland, will celebrate its 40 years with a variety of events during next week’s “National Consumer Protection Week.” [Montgomery County]
Flickr photo by vpickering
Chevy Chase Landlord Faces Charges For Peeping On Tenants — Police say Dennis Alan Van Dusen hid cameras to secretly record three tenants in his Ridgewood Avenue house while they were nude or intimate with their boyfriends. He faces a March 4 trial and civil suits from two of the women and one of their boyfriends. [Washington Post]
Montgomery County Can’t Take Over Pepco Power Lines — The county attorney says the Maryland General Assembly would have to vote to allow Montgomery to revoke Pepco’s franchise over the electrical grid. Taking over some of the power lines and creating some form of public electric utility has been suggested as a solution to reliability issues. [Washington Examiner]
Whitman Wins Jazz Festival Competition — The Walt Whitman High School jazz band took home first place and a $1,000 cash prize for its performance at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival last weekend in Rockville. The Whitman band improved on its second place showing from the 2012 competition against 11 other high school bands from the Mid-Atlantic. [h/t Amy Marie Moore]
Flickr photo by WKV
Pepco’s outage map showed 2,710 customers without power in neighborhoods just north of the Beltway and mostly east of Rockville Pike at 10:30 a.m. The estimated restoration time is 9 a.m. tomorrow (Friday.)
There were also 182 customers without power in neighborhoods on the east side of Rockville Pike along Cedar Lane. The estimated restoration time there is 11 a.m. tomorrow, according to the outage map.
Gusty winds following Wednesday night’s rain remained on Thursday.
Photo via Pepco Outage Map
County Digging In For Fight Against Pepco Rate Hike Requests — Montgomery County has assigned a county attorney to work full time on making the county’s case against Pepco rate hike requests, a signal of the ongoing battles to come. [The Gazette]
Bethesda Neighbors Battle Over ‘Frankenhouse’ — Neighbors of a house construction project in Edgemoor apparently disliked the new-look home so much, they threw rocks through the windows and got into arguments with contractors. Then, the home started winning architectural awards. [Bethesda Magazine]
Most Marylanders For Gun Control Measures — Maryland voters favor a state assault weapons ban by a 62 percent to 35 percent margin and 71 percent support limiting gun magazines to 10 bullets, according to a poll. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has suggested he would pursue such laws in the General Assembly. [Baltimore Sun]
Flickr photo by Bill in DC
The National Weather Service has issued a Wind Advisory that remains in effect today for Montgomery County.
The Advisory will last until 6 p.m. today. Winds of 25 to 35 mph with gusts of 50 mph could mean downed trees and power lines.
Already some have lost power in the 20817 zip code of Bethesda. At 9 a.m., Pepco’s outage map showed five customers without power in the area.
The NWS Advisory:
WIND ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 9 AM THIS MORNING TO 6 PM EST THIS EVENING…
* TIMING… FROM MID MORNING THROUGH LATE AFTERNOON.
* WINDS… NORTHWEST 25 TO 35 MPH WITH GUSTS UP TO 50 MPH.
* IMPACTS… DOWNED TREES AND POWERLINES WILL BE POSSIBLE FROM THE HIGHER WIND GUSTS.
A WIND ADVISORY MEANS THAT WIND GUSTS OF 45 TO 55 MPH ARE EXPECTED. WINDS THIS STRONG CAN MAKE DRIVING DIFFICULT… ESPECIALLY FOR HIGH PROFILE VEHICLES.
Bethesda Urban Partnership workers closed off Fairmont Avenue at the corner of Norfolk Avenue on Thursday afternoon after Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Officials cleared the area.
A BUP worker said the BlackFinn American Saloon (4901 Fairmont Ave.) was one of the properties to lose power and it hasn’t been the first time. They reported power problems in the summer, similar to issues other Woodmont Triangle restaurants faced. In September, the owner of Olazzo (7921 Norfolk Ave.) told MyMCMedia he lost between $50,000 and $75,000 because of random power outages.
Fairmont Avenue remains blocked off near Veterans Park.
Seven members of the Montgomery County Council offered their disapproval of Pepco’s latest rate hike request, which came Friday and would mean an increase of about $7.13 per month for the average customer.
Councilmembers Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac), Nancy Navarro (D-Colesville), Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg), Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) and at-large representatives George Leventhal, Marc Elrich and Hans Riemer said they want to see reliability upgrades before supporting a rate hike:
We oppose Pepco’s request for a rate hike. We believe Pepco’s financial fortunes should be directly tied to its performance and that performance does not justify an increase in its rate of return. As it is, shareholders have fared a lot better than ratepayers.
We also do not believe that Pepco should be able to avoid a review of the prudence of its expenditures in return for expediting their reliability work. Rather, we believe that Pepco owes it to this community to expedite its reliability work using the traditional ratemaking process that ensures that Pepco can only recover from ratepayers costs that the Commission finds are just and reasonable. We fully expect that our County will fight this suspect, unwarranted, and unjustified request, and that the Commission will, as it has recently, protect Montgomery County ratepayers that have suffered for far too long.
Pepco says it needs the money, which includes a $60 million rate increase, an increase on return on equity and a grid resiliency surcharge, to improve reliability.
Berliner called the rate increase request “a little like Groundhog Day.” Pepco was denied a similar request about four months ago by the Maryland Public Service Commission, which decides on utility rate requests.
At that time, Pepco officials indicated they would turn around and ask for a rate increase again, a common occurrence in the utility industry, Berliner said.
“I don’t begrudge them their corporate interest in helping their shareholders,” Berliner said. “I’m not confident that the system has gotten fundamentally stronger. If we had another major storm, we still have a weak system.”
Berliner said he expects Pepco to be in the top quarter of reliability rankings nationally and even though the company’s return on equity is below the industry norm he is opposing the increase because its performance is also below the industry norm.
“My perspective is its return should be related to its performance,” Berliner said.
Roger Berliner will hand over his title as Montgomery County Council president to Nancy Navarro (D-Colesville) tomorrow, concluding a year in which the Bethesda, Chevy Chase and Potomac representative says the county made strides despite ongoing fiscal restraints.
“I look back on it with some sense of satisfaction because I do believe we have advanced Montgomery County’s public good during the course of this past year,” Berliner said. “First and foremost, I think we were responsible fiscal stewards.”
For the first time in 11 years, the county did not raise property taxes to the full limit the county’s charter allows, which Berliner said was a sign the council recognized residents’ struggles in a floundering economy.
The council president position typically serves a one-year term, during which he or she gets to set the agenda and serve as the public face of the county’s nine-member legislative body. Berliner held a weekly Monday press conference to talk about issues facing the county, something his predecessor Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring) didn’t do as often.
He said those media sessions were an enjoyable part of the job. He even awarded the reporter who showed up to the most of them with a proclamation during his final press conference as council president on Monday.
Some of Berliner’s pet issues — utilities, Pepco, transportation and business development — did take center stage at times throughout the year.
Berliner, an energy lawyer, often took the lead in criticizing Pepco for its performance during last summer’s derecho and on Monday discussed in great detail his stance against another requested rate hike from Pepco. He did say anecdotal evidence, particularly the company’s performance during Superstorm Sandy, indicates Pepco is improving.
Berliner spearheaded a meeting with Fairfax County officials, what he called the first-ever of its kind between the two suburban counties that typically make headlines competing for businesses, to talk improvements to the American Legion Bridge. He said one of his disappointments was the lack of a funding solution for the county’s major transportation needs and projects.
He also introduced a Small Business Navigator tool through legislation in the council that’s designed to help businesses wade through county regulations. He pushed for the county to hire a chief innovation officer, similar to positions in major cities such as Philadelphia, San Francisco and Chicago.
“My goal quite frankly is that Montgomery County become known as a small business sanctuary. We’ve been more nimble and more entrepreneurial and we will also spread the wealth,” Berliner said, referring to master plans in Wheaton, Takoma Park and Burtonsville the council presided over in the last year.
Navarro, who served as council vice president during the past year, will be given Berliner’s position tomorrow. The decision on the next vice president isn’t as clear.
Berliner wouldn’t reveal his choice on Monday. The council will decide on Tuesday during council elections scheduled for 9:30 a.m.
Audits Show Mismanagement of Funds at B-CC — Audits from 2008 and 2011 show lax record-keeping procedures for cash and checks collected by sponsors for school activity and at least $61,000 in understated debt owed to Montgomery County Public Schools and other vendors. [Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland]
Pepco Again Asks For Rate Hike — The power company is asking the Maryland Public Service for a $60.8 million increase in its base rates, about $7.13 more a month for the average customer. [The Gazette]
Ride On Bus Cameras Watch and Record — Nearly 300 Montgomery County Ride On buses have surveillance cameras that record sound in addition to video. That has some worried about privacy issues, but the county says the sound recording is meant for the bus drivers. [Washington Post]
Flickr photo by smather
Bethesda Salon Receives $19,000 Pepco Bill — It was wrong, at least according to salon owner Ira Ludwick, who owns the Ira Ludwick Salon at 10400 Old Georgetown Rd. Pepco eventually said it had charged him for the wrong meter based on the way the landlord labeled equipment. [WUSA9]
Chevy Chase Village Having Difficult Time Finding Board Volunteers — After two board members quit because of more stringent state ethics rules, the Village’s seven-member governing body is down to five and finding replacements hasn’t been easy. [The Gazette]
Residents For Better Transit, Unsure of Bus Rapid Transit — Some expressed skepticism of plans for a sizeable Bus Rapid Transit system proposal at a public meeting this week in Silver Spring. At issue: The removal of one lane of traffic in some areas to provide for a BRT-dedicated lane. [Greater Greater Washington]
Civic Association Sues County Over Brickyard Farm — The West Montgomery County Citizens Association on Monday filed suit against the county and School Board for unlawfully conspiring to replace a popular Potomac organic farm with soccer fields. The School Board owns the land. [Washington Post]
Two Jump In To County Executive Race, Others Wait — Councilmembers Phil Andrews (D-Gaithersburg) and George Leventhal (D-At large) of Takoma Park say they are in for the 2014 County Executive race. County Executive Isiah Leggett has repeatedly said he won’t run again, at least as it stands now. Councilmembers Valerie Ervin (D-Silver Spring), Marc Elrich (D-At large) of Takoma Park and State Del. Ben Kramer (D-Dist. 19) are also widely expected to run. [The Gazette]
Flickr photo by ehpien