Regulators weigh rules to minimize shock danger

State utility regulators weighed concerns about balancing safety and cost Thursday, as they considered rules to minimize the risk of accidental electrocution when objects such as streetlights become electrified.

The "Deanna Camille Green Regulations" were proposed by parents of the 14-year-old Randallstown girl who was fatally electrocuted when she touched two fences at a Druid Hill Park softball field in 2006.

The fences were in contact with an underground wire, and Anthony and Nancy Green want to prevent similar tragedies.

"You can't say this cannot happen. You can't say this did not happen," Anthony Green told the Maryland Public Service Commission during Thursday's rule-making session.

Representatives for utilities said trying to eliminate all risks would be expensive, and they balked at requirements for voltage testing beyond their own equipment.

But PSC Chairman Douglas Nazarian said that requiring utilities to conduct inspections would not absolve municipalities of maintenance duties.

PSC staff members developed draft regulations focusing on conditions that could result in objects or surfaces being inadvertently energized, or that could elevate voltage levels.

Under the proposal, utilities would designate "contact voltage risk zones" that would be approved by the commissioners. These areas are considered at higher risk because of dense population, including peaks during certain seasons or working hours. The proposal would include underground wires, because deterioration of such equipment is less visible than overhead wires.

The proposed regulations must be reviewed by a state legislative committee and published for public comment before being adopted.

Within high-risk areas, the rules call for utilities to test streetlights maintained by local governments as well as objects within parks and playgrounds. If workers detect voltage problems, they must make the area safe and either mitigate the problem or notify the property owner, as well as check other potential conductors within 30 feet.

Outside the risk zones, utilities would be required to test publicly accessible electric distribution equipment and utility-maintained streetlights as part of their maintenance plans.

Anthony Green urged commissioners to work quickly and to emphasize safety over expense. "At the end of the day, let's not look at cost," he said. "Let's look at the value of a life."

But utility representatives objected to requirements to test equipment in risk zones that do not belong to them. "It puts the burden on us to notify others and make things safe and pay for things that really should be the responsibility of somebody else," said Beverly Sikora, an attorney representing Baltimore Gas & Electric Co.

Other states have instituted contact voltage regulations or are considering testing programs. For example, New York requires annual testing of utility facilities that are accessible to the public, according to filings by PSC staff.

BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said the utility started testing underground circuits in Baltimore for contact voltage in 2010 after becoming aware of problems in other parts of the country. It found more than 300 problems, but only three reached more than 100 volts and 13 were between 40 and 100 volts.

Deanna Green touched a fence that had come in contact with an underground cable carrying 232 volts, city officials said in 2006.

Foy said in a statement that when BGE finds contact voltage problems in its equipment it repairs it immediately; if the item is controlled by someone else, the utility notifies owners so they can make repairs.

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