County Attorney Weighs In On Public Power Option
State Legislature, Maryland Public Service Commission must okay any potential move to public power, county attorney says.
Should Montgomery County choose to form a public power company as an alternative to Pepco, the Maryland General Assembly and the Maryland Public Service Commission may need to okay the move, according to county attorney Marc Hansen.
The county would also need to pay Pepco “just compensation,” determined by fair market value, for its infrastructure, according to the opinion Hansen issued to members of the Montgomery County Council Sept. 8.
Members of the council have been exploring whether forming a public power company would be feasible in the wake of mounting frustration with Pepco’s service. Feb. 14, several council members including Councilman Roger Berliner (D-Dist. 1), who has been leading the effort to gain more information about a public power alternative, asked Hansen about any preliminary legal steps that may be required.
Sept. 8, Hansen said in a memo that the county would need a stamp of approval from the Maryland General Assembly in order to acquire Pepco’s infrastructure by condemnation, and a nod from the Maryland Public Service Commission before any potential new public power company began delivering service.
Berliner called those findings “very significant” and said he would recommend that Maryland State Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler be asked to weigh in.
“Given the service we have been provided by Pepco for the past five years, it would be irresponsible not to carefully explore this option,” Berliner told Patch. “I’m not committing to it, I don’t know if it would work, but I do know that many communities that are served by public power typically have very reliable service.”
Municipalities within the county would also need to give their consent before any potential switch, Hansen wrote.
Pepco isn't commenting on Montgomery County's move to explore public power, according to Pepco spokesman Clay Anderson. The utility is working to enhance reliability, Anderson said in a statement.
Anderson said he couldn't give an estimate as to what Pepco's infrastructure in Montgomery County might be worth.
An appraisal would need to be conducted to determine a dollar figure, Hansen wrote.
"There's no question [the number] is a big one, but how big is not known," Berliner wrote in an email to Patch. "But... the number is only too big if the revenue from ratepayers is insufficient, and that analysis has not been done."
This story has been updated.