Lights Out at FERC

By Kennedy Maize

Washington, D.C., June 1, 2011 – Maybe no electric utility in the country has a worse reputation for reliability that Pepco, which serves the nation’s capital and much of its Maryland suburbs. The company is under fire from District of Columbia and Maryland utility regulators for a record of storm-related blackouts over the past couple of years, all hitting hundreds of thousands of customers who work for the three branches of the federal government.

So what could be worse that blacking out D.C. and Montgomery County, Md.? How about blacking out the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission?

Yep, that’s what happened today (Wednesday, June 1). During a protracted Memorial Day heat wave, with temperatures in the mid-90s, some 5,000 Pepco customers in the Northeast section of the city lost power Tuesday afternoon, and it had not been restored by Wednesday evening. Prominent among them: FERC.

The failure of underground cables may have been heat-related, according to a Pepco spokesman, but the utility was uncertain about the exact cause. In any case, the outage forced a local school, some D.C. government offices, the D.C. CNN bureau, and FERC to close for the day.

A notice posted on the FERC website stated: “FERC Headquarters, both 888 and 1100 First Street NE, are closed today, Wednesday, June 1, 2011. Emergency personnel who already have been contacted should report for duty as directed. Non-emergency personnel are on administrative leave today, Wednesday, June 1. Employees should monitor for updates.”

In an email to reporters, FERC spokeswoman Mary O’Driscoll said, “As you likely know now, FERC’s headquarters offices are closed today due to a power 0utage that hit the North Capitol Street area yesterday afternoon.

It is unclear at this time when we will return to the office, but in the meantime, we are posting updates on the website, and to our Facebook and Twitter accounts. We continue to update when events warrant.

As we have noted on our webpage, because of the temporary power outage, any filing with a due date of May 31, or June 1, 2011, will be considered timely on the next business day that FERC is open.”

Pepco wins the POWER Blog (not so) cool move of the week award.


Update: 6:06 p.m. Thursday, June 2, 2011 — FERC remained closed on Thursday, extending an electrical outage at the nation’s chief regulator of electric reliability (working, of course, with the North American Electric Reliability Corp.) that began Tuesday evening. The responsible utility, Pepco, has been unable to keep the lights on at FERC for any extended period of time.

On Thursday morning, FERC spokeswoman Mary O’Driscoll emailed reporters: “FERC is closed again today due to the Pepco power outage. Power was temporarily restored at 9 p.m. last night both FERC Headquarters buildings at 888 and 1100 First Street, NE. However, it was lost again shortly around 11 p.m.

Pepco has informed us that they are working to remedy the situation and expect to restore power again this afternoon. Emergency personnel who already have been notified should report for duty as directed. Program Office leadership will be in touch today with other staff on potential alternate work arrangements. All other personnel are on administrative leave today.”

Will the regulators be back in business this week? The over-under is noon Friday. Stay tuned.

Final Update, 6:46 p.m. Friday, June 3, 2011 —FERC’s lights were on by Friday as the business day began at 9 a.m., although it took a bit longer for the agency’s website to get fully populated. Those who bet the under are the winners. No word whether FERC is going to have a special technical workshop to examine Pepco’s reliability performance.