Volume XI, Issue 40 ~ October 2-8, 2003

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Underground Solution: Let’s Force BG&E Into the Modern Era

Ever heard of the Stockholm Syndrome, in which captives become bludgeoned into seeing the world like their captors?

That’s what we thought of last week when we saw “Thanks BG&E” signs on a road that had been denied power for nearly a week.

Why would we thank someone for incompetence?

Up front, here’s our admission: Bay Weekly was among those out of power for nearly six days, forcing a humongous effort to get out last week’s paper without benefit of a central office.

But weeks ago in this space, we praised a recommendation by Annapolis Mayor Ellen Moyer that Baltimore Gas & Electric bury more of its power lines.

The main result, obviously, is removing the main cause of power outages: trees falling on wires. But there are environmental benefits, too: We re-open our horizons while precluding the unsightly tree-trimming (angry whacking?) by the utility’s contractors.

Utilities had their excuses: Big storms don’t come along that often. It costs too much ($3 million a mile, they say). But mostly the attitude was, ‘This is the way we do it.’

How about looking at doing things another way? During inquiries about what went wrong in BG&E’s response, we’re hoping that the Maryland Public Service Commission forces BG&E to re-examine its policies. And we think there’s merit in a plan by Sen. John Giannetti, D-Prince George’s, to fund a pilot program to place certain cables underground.

But we need to limit the cost to taxpayers.

We’re not very sympathetic to the utilities’ ‘it costs too much’ refrain. In its most recent quarterly financial statement, Constellation Energy, BG&E’s corporate parent, reported profits of $96.8 million. The company boosted its revenues by 120 percent to a whopping $2.27 billion. And this is for three months.

Here’s a modest solution: What if BG&E begins by identifying stretches where downed trees are a particular problem, or a likely problem in the future, and then buries the lines there?

At $3 million a mile, would we be cutting too much into investors’ profits and the executives’ six-figure salaries?

While BG&E trumpets its profits — noting how it beat analysts’ forecasts — we think it appropriate to consider the losses of the many small businesses in Anne Arundel and Calvert counties from going without power for all those days.

Let’s also calculate the losses when schools and senior care facilities are out of power.

Utilities may be largely monopolies, but electricity is a matter of the public trust. And given the repeated and prolonged outages in 2003, we think the time is past to regulate utilities in a way that serves customers, not just investors.



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Last updated October 2, 2003 @ 2:37am