one of 19 people who testified before the housing and community
affairs committee of the state House of Representatives, and two
state senators, who joined the panel related anecdotally
experiences that put Conectiv in as poor light as the utility
left them for several days after the storm. When they were done,
the lawmakers, who had been careful to praise the efforts of the
work crews which restored power, cast a few barbs of their own.
Representative Robert Valihura, its chairman, announced that
further hearings are likely. He did not indicate what, if any,
legislative or other action the General Assembly might take.
referred to "extraordinarily long power outages ... longer than
we have ever had before." But he ruled out any direct
questioning of company officials by the witnesses and, with one
exception, did not require them to respond to the criticisms.
president Thomas Shaw referred to Isabel as "the most
devastating storm ever to hit Conectiv Power Delivery's service
Power Delivery is a Conectiv operating subsidiary and Conectiv,
in turn, is a subsidiary of Washington, D.C.-based Pepco
Holdings. The holding company also owns Potomac Electric.
Cathy Cloutier honed in on that corporate structure and asked if
it had any bearing on alleged lack of responsiveness to Delaware
customers. Shaw replied that it did not, noting that his and the
other operating company function autonomously of each other.
acknowledge to Representative David Ennis that employees who
took telephone calls from customers who were able to get beyond
the automated answering system were mostly located in Salisbury,
Md., and southern New Jersey. A few northern Delaware-based
customer service representatives were pressed into service as
the calls mounted, he said. Joseph Rigby, president of Conectiv
Power Delivery, said the volume of calls during the first four
days of the storm emergency was equivalent to the number
received during three months of normal time.
that the company is in the midst of conducting an internal
appraisal of its storm performance and that James Witt, a former
director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and
acknowledged expert in emergency preparedness, is doing his own
study. Shaw did not say whether results of that study will be
made public and Delaforum had been unable as this article was
being prepared to reach a company spokesman to find out.
prefaced public testimony at the hearing on Oct. 28 by narrating
the same Power Point presentation that, as Delaforum previously
reported, the company has been showing to various civic
He said power failures affected
109,000 of his company's 279,000 Delaware customers. It also
sells electricity on southern Delaware and the Eastern Shore
counties of Maryland and Virginia. In
he said, 63% of customers experiencing what the company prefers
to call 'outages' were back on line within 24 hours and 81%
within 48 hours. It was nearly a week before everyone had power
He said 260 line crews from the
company and 400 brought in from other companies under a mutual
assistance arrangement worked, on average, 16-hour shifts. They
did their job without incurring any injuries. Other utility
companies had some fatal injuries coping with the storm, he
Poor communications with customers
and a desultory approach to tree trimming to prevent limbs and
entire trees from falling on power lines were the main
complaints by those from an audience of about 125 attending the
hearing in the Brandywine High School auditorium.
John Rodowski said he telephoned 16
times "without getting through to a human being" and was
disconnected most of those times by the automated system. He
also went to the company's buildings in downtown
Wilmington and near Christiana but was unable to access anyone
who could or would tell him when to expect his power to be
Steve Kleiner said he was told to
get that information from the company's Web site, but it was not
explained how he could access the site without electricity.
When Delaforum called
what seemed to be the most likely number in the
Verizon directory to reach a Conectiv executive, it
ended up with another company. That happens
frequently, the woman who answered said, because the
listed number is wrong.
Using the number she
supplied, Delaforum reached an automatic system
which played 10 minutes of 'elevator music'
interspersed with commercials before a customer
service representative based in Maryland came on the
line and transferred the call to an appropriate
One of the commercials
proclaimed that Conectiv "takes a great deal of
pride [in] being connected to its community."
Phillips testified that his need for information was more
critical because his paralyzed son depends on electricity to
operate a wheelchair and a home elevator and a long interruption
requires alternate arrangements. When he explained the situation
to Conectiv, he was asked if it was life-threatening. "There was
no middle ground between life-threatening and everybody else,"
he said, adding that he was finally told power would be back on
two days sooner than it actually was.
raised the matter of restoration priorities, asking for an
explanation of why "lights were burning the whole time" at the
Astra Zeneca corporate complex opposite Fairfax while that
community and several others in the area were dark. He did not
receive a response nor did he press the matter.
Greigg said that, during the storm emergency he saw four crews
along Centreville Road, including one with marking indicating it
belonged to a company in Alabama apparently doing 'routine' tree
Jurman, on the other hand, complained that "every time I call
Conectiv they tell me it's the trees," but the company does not
seem willing to cut them back with a result that her
neighborhood averages three or four power failures a year. John
Brosos said residents of his community have been trying without
success for several years to get trees threatening power lines
Representative Deborah Hudson later raised a question about what
she said appeared to be reluctance to trim trees in at some
neighborhoods, company forester Richard Johnstone acknowledged
that "we backed off" when residents in the Kennett Pike areas
complained about trimming.
testified that Conectiv Power Delivery budgeted $16 million for what he
referred to as "vegetation management" in the period of 2000
through 2003, about double what it spent in the previous four
comes to tree trimming and removal, "we have to be careful what
we ask for," Gail Van Gilder, of Delaware Greenways, said. She
accused the company of indiscriminately 'clear cutting' trees
without providing proper replacements.. Johnstone later denied
that it does.
Boetcher testified that he has found Conectiv Power Delivery crews
unwilling to install such things as guards on transformers when
they respond to power failures. He displayed a squirrel-chewed
cable as illustrative of the type things that could be prevented
by taking such steps.
many of us here do not understand [Conectiv's] problem," said
Walter Domorod, the only one whose testimony was favorable to
the company. As a result of deregulation and lack of a
guaranteed return on investment "they have had to cut back on
people" and are hampered in such things as being able to
effectively maintain lines because they are limited in such
matters as how much tree trimming they can do.
no way we are not going to lose power," he said.