County Exploring Pilot Utility System
County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) says Montgomery County can serve as a national model of a responsive and efficient electric utility operation, a far cry from the oft-criticized system of today. To do it, the county would have to wade through the potentially difficult process of negotiating changes with Pepco, the privately-held utility company that provides most of the county's electricity and that was once named the "most hated company in America." Berliner labeled Thursday's Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee meeting on the topic as the opening act of a "Utility 2.0" program. "Here we have an investor-owned utility that has its own economic interests and a business model," Berliner said Monday. "We need to change this. We need to experiment." Berliner, an energy lawyer who has taken a leading role after the June derecho left thousands without power, envisions the type of microgrid technology — solar power or other means that provide decentralized power to specific communities — that has served institutions in the county well. Berliner cited the U.S. Food and Drug Administration campus in Silver Spring, which has its own microgrid, as an example. He claimed the FDA has never lost power. Though he hasn't given up on pursuing a public power option, Berliner was careful to point out "Utility 2.0" is a separate process. "This is not buying [Pepco's] system. This is modeling and piloting a very different kind of utility system because of its experimental nature. In fact, we need Pepco's collaboration because if they are in resistance, this is going to be a problem," Berliner said. "I have always recognized it is an uphill battle and therefore, I don't want to put all my eggs in [the public power] basket. I'm proceeding along parallel tracks if you will." Thursday's committee hearing will include utility representatives from across the country, including from Pepco, Berliner said. He hopes to have a recommendation for the pilot program prepared for Gov. Martin O'Malley by March. "The technological challenges are not that great. We have a pretty good sense of the kinds of things that can be done," Berliner said. "It is the regulatory and institutional arrangements that are so difficult to come to terms with. ...We need to have an intensive process."