Council Committee Talks 'Perfect Utility'
Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) has high hopes for "Utility 2.0," the microgrid electric utility project he hopes to start in Montgomery County as a model for the rest of the country. In a Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee meeting yesterday, Berliner and Councilman Hans Riemer (D-At large) of Silver Spring spoke in glowing terms of a system that would allow parts of the county to generate their own power in addition to or instead of relying on Pepco. Pepco has been under fire for its reliability and service. Residents expressed their dissatisfaction with the electric company in a Public Service Commission hearing in August. The PSC regulates state utilities. "People feel like they don't have a voice about how a fundamental service delivers into their own community or to their own street," Riemer said. "This project gives us, as a community, a chance to shape our own future. That is what is exciting about it to me. Otherwise, we'll just file cases at the [Public Service Commission] and we'll wait for things to come up and we'll react. This is not about reacting. This is about shaping the future." Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-At large) of Garrett Park offered a more sobering view. "We're ill-equipped to do this," Floreen said. "We need the PSC." Ron Binz, former chairman of the Colorado Service Commission, where the city of Boulder is pursuing its own public power company, John Kelly and Kurt Yeager of the Galvin Electricity Initiative and John Jimison of the Energy Future Coalition all presented ideas and examples of cleaner, more efficient electricity. Kelly said local generation of power (whether by solar means as Berliner has suggested or other methods such as wind) will not actually harm big utility companies. "When we're talking about local generation, we are talking about 20 or 30 percent of the power. The utility still gets 70 percent," Kelly said. "We don't really see this as a loss for utilities. We see it as a gain for customers." In his opening statement, Berliner quoted a passage from the book "An Electric Revolution: Reforming Monopolies, Reinventing the Grid and Giving Power to the People," that said the country is at "a metaphorical 1776 of energy." "We can choose to maintain the grid as it now exists and is regulated, a course favored by most incumbent monopoly stakeholders who are as figuratively entrenched in law and society as was the British monarchy of the 1700s. Or … we can reinvent the system to best serve the needs of consumers," Berliner read. "This is a future Montgomery County residents richly deserve," said Berliner, who emphasized the importance of working with Pepco to achieve it. Pepco officials were at the hearing. As of Thursday, what Berliner labeled the opening act of the project, just how that cooperation would work wasn't clear.