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Still waiting for the power to come back on? Here's why, BGE says

Power still out?

Mine came back Sunday morning. My relatives in Columbia never lost it. My in-laws in southern Anne Arundel County are still waiting. Friday night's storm did not cut evenly through the region, and BGE says the unusual nature of the "derecho" is complicating efforts to get everyone's much-needed air conditioning up and running again.

Utilities don’t have enough staff to handle severe-storm outages – the expense would send rates soaring – and so they rely on out-of-state utilities to send help, said Stephen Woerner, BGE’s chief operating officer. Hurricane forecasts offer enough advanced warning for utilities to “pre-mobilize” and get the out-of-state assistance in place, he said, but the forecast for Friday’s walloping wind was merely scattered thunderstorms.

As a result, BGE had more out-of-state help in place before Hurricane Irene hit last year than it did by mid-day Monday, several days after the storm. Workers were traveling from as far afield as Florida and Canada.

“No utility was prepared for what we saw in terms of having staff available that first day,” Woerner said.

He's been with the company for 23 years, and he said he’s “never seen this number of customers out in such a short period of time without an advanced forecast of severe weather.”

Mild temperatures usually follow a hurricane, easing the effects of an outage. The baking heat after Friday’s storm makes it worse for homeowners without power and for the crews trying to restore it. Workers need more frequent breaks to avoid overheating in their heavy, flame-retardant clothing, Woerner said.

He said BGE will pore over forecasts for this storm to see whether there’s any clue they might use to predict the likelihood of a repeat performance down the road – a storm that will be worse than meteorologists think – such as energy in the atmosphere.

So when will you get power back if it's still out? If you're having trouble finding an estimate more specific than possibly as late as this coming weekend, that's because BGE says it wants to hold off on specifics until officials feel confident they can deliver. The utility says it expects that many customers will be back on today. (The outage map is here.)

Paula Carmody, head of the Maryland Office of People's Counsel, which represents residents on utility matters, said her office is hearing complaints about the lack of specific estimates.

“In very major storms like this, it does become a problem trying to give those estimates in an accurate way,” she said. “The No. 1 concern is, people do want their service restored as soon as possible.”

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