Dear PoPville – Help, We are in Pepco Hell

Photo tweeted to us over the weekend by [email protected]

“Dear PoPville,

We are currently experiencing our 4th power outage this summer – each and every one happening without any storm or weather event. My neighborhood, a vibrant residential and growing commercial district along 11th Street, is plagued by these seemingly random outages. It takes Pepco several hours (usually 6-12) to restore power, but whatever fix they do is never lasting. We had an outage yesterday, and here we are again today – no power.

Please, what can be done to have this finally fixed? I’ve lived in my home for 6 years, and we have constantly had Pepco issues, but never this often or persistent. It’s like we’re living in a 3rd world country.”

28 Comment

  • At least in third world countries, you expect the electricity to be unreliable! Good luck. That stretch of 11th has had constant power issues for the last five years or so.

    • That stretch of Columbia Heights has been having periodic outages for at least 8 years, probably longer. No idea why Pepco can’t resolve the issue.

  • I don’t live in that area so don’t know exactly when these outages have occurred, but would guess that they are related to weather events – the “event” being especially hot weather that puts more demand on the grid.

  • Pssst. Pssst. Hey, Pepco PR and emergency response. This might be a good opportunity to show that you can respond quickly to neighborhoods you’ve been failing to adequately serve for some time.

    “Thank you for your Pepco inquiry. We take each and every customer request very seriously. You’re important to us, truly. You have no idea. All our customer service representatives are currently busy. Please use your telephone keypad to enter your email address, account number, what you had for breakfast this morning. We’ll get back to you later this week. Thank you for using Pepco’s automated service directory. Go eff yourself.”

    • justinbc

      Pepco doesn’t even need a PR department. Want power in DC? Ok then you get to use Pepco. Whether you like them or not is really negligible to their bottom line.

  • Good lord people, this person asked for advice for a really frustrating issue, not your criticism. OP, I would strongly encourage you to get into contact with your ANC rep. They can often escalate issues. If they are also frustrated, contact your council member as well. These are pretty SOP, but they have gotten good results for me in the past with similar issues. Good luck and tune out these jerks

  • You’ve got an old, unreliable transformer somewhere on the line serving you. Wasn’t this the stretch that had one actually explode and blow the grate out of the sidewalk, or was that further south down 11th? Pepco for sure knows what the problem is, but get in line with the dozens of other areas in the city. We had the exact same situation in Bloomingdale for the past 5 years (power just going out randomly during high usage, normal thunderstorm winds causing brownouts, etc.). It’s only since they tore up the alleys and sidewalks and started replacing the underground equipment with brand new gear that we’ve been stable (only a couple flickers during the recent storms). Until you get to the top of that list you’ll have to wait and call Pepco whenever service goes out so they can come out a reset whatever rusty bucket of bolts couldn’t handle the latest surge. Oh, and get the Pepco app on your phone and report outages IMMEDIATELY when they happen and encourage all of your neighbors to do the same.

  • gotryit

    3rd world solution – buy a generator? I’m all for pressuring PEPCO to get their act together, but that may not solve your problem for a while.

  • Office of the People’s Counsel?

    • Pepco is a regulated utility. You should complain to the DC Public Service Commission. They are currently reviewing an application by Pepco to raise rates in order to pay for moving lines underground. Their website is at

  • I once had an issue with Washington Gas that went on and one for almost an entire year. Maybe consider a generator if they are allowed in DC?

    After playing by the rules for months and being polite, I finally sat down and wrote a six page email detailing everything including the number of events, dozens of calls, response with names, and emails. I sent it to EVERY executive at Wash Gas including their PR VP, every newspaper and local blog, my council member, ANC member, and Congress Woman EH Norton – 26 people total. Luckily I had kept track of all the dates and people I spoke with which I detailed and then copied and attached my notes.

    The phone started to ring by the end of the day and by the end of the week, the issue was taken care of.

    Public Shame is a powerful tool in business. Good luck.

  • What the hell is the city doing to help and hold PEPCO accountable? This is ridiculous.

    • Well, I’m guessing that they’re weighing the impact of dealing with an aging/aged infrastructure vs raising rates to cover the cost — which could have a devastating impact on folks with low / fixed incomes. I wonder if there’s a way to do some sort of tiered pricing. I also wonder what — if any – impact increasing the density of neighborhoods has had on stressing the power grid – and if there’s a way to build some charges into development/ over- usage to help pay for upgrades.

  • I was in a similar situation nearby a couple of years ago, so I get your frustration–really, I do. Even more frustrating, though, is the number of times someone in DC has compared their occasional power outages to living in a Third World country. You do not live in a Third World country, and however inconvenient these outages (or Metro troubles, or a multitude of other very First World problems) are, recognize the fact that you’re lucky enough to live in a relatively well-functioning, economically stable city with companies that provide you, at a relatively low cost, all of the electricity you need to run your fridge and turn on your lights. Worst-case scenario, your power’s out long enough for your food to go bad. Thank goodness there’s a grocery store a few blocks away with fresh, clean food that you are able to buy with the money you earn working a decent job. Things could be worse.

    • One of the main reasons third world countries are such as mess is no one is held accountable, let’s aim a little higher.

    • How would those poor starving children in Africa feel about me throwing away pounds and pounds of food they’ll never dream of being able to afford?

    • No. Wasted groceries cannot always be replaced. Not everyone can spend $100 and turn around and replace that in a week. This is not a third world country, power outages are NOT expected, and pepco needs to take responsibility.

    • “Things could be worse” is true, but too often it’s used as a (lame) justification of the status quo. Just because things could be worse doesn’t mean that the status quo is acceptable.
      It’s also pretty reductive. Unless you’re an orphaned quadriplegic kid in [insert conflict zone here], things could almost always be worse.

  • jim_ed

    I’d get you and all your neighbors to contact the DC Public Utilities Service Commission. We had an issue with Washington Gas where they kept jerking us around like a bunch of suckers. Once we contacted the PSC, we got a call from Washington Gas that day and a service person out at 1am to fix a non-emergency issue.

  • I would suggest buying Pepco stock. That way, when they issue a dividend at least you’ll get a little something in return for your troubles.

  • Generator or solar battery back up run to your fridge and basic lighting. If the man gives you third world, do third world right! Then post videos to every social media possible of your outages. Shame is the name of the game when dealing with monopolies.

  • I work for a large national utility that operates over 10,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines and hundreds of transformers in parts of the country that regularly experience extreme weather. In 2013, we had 32 total events in which our customers (which are distribution-level utilities that serve homes and businesses) experienced outages. 32. And we are not some superhuman exemplar of unattainable reliability and operational skill.

    Even recognizing that PEPCO operates distribution-level lines, no utility of any type regularly blows up transformers and breakers, experiences multiple switch/relay failures, or has regular uncontrolled system separation events, let alone repeatedly in the same area of the system. As a resident of the effected area of Columbia Heights, it absolutely infuriates me that, in response to these outages, PEPCO only provides an explanation of WHAT happened (i.e. switch failure/line fault), and not WHY it happened. This is because there is no explanation for this level of system failure that is not the result of negligence by PEPCO in planning, designing, and operating its system, nor one where PEPCO’s action conform to good utility practice. And PEPCO knows this.

    If you, like me, want true redress for this state of affairs, write/email your ANC rep, council member, and (most of all) the DC Public Service Commission, and repeatedly point out that PEPCO’s conduct has been IMPRUDENT in maintaining and operating their system. Use that word specifically. As noted above, the DCPSC has jurisdiction over PEPCO’s rates. PEPCO is allowed to recover through its rates all “prudently-incurred” costs of providing service. It’s clear that PEPCO has, in no sense of the word, been prudent in its design, operation, and maintenance of its facilities in the 11th Street corridor, and its PEPCO’s shareholders (not it’s customers) who should bear the cost of repairing and upgrading this area until such time as it meets at least a minimum standard of reliability. Once again: “imprudence” is the word. Make sure the DCPSC hears it frequently.

  • I agree the public shaming must begin. And you have some really good allies. I am sure Wonderland, Red Rocks, Maple, KBC, Meridian Point and all the other restaurants are not excited that their businesses are taking a hit every time the power goes out. Pepco has dragged it’s feet for long enough. Maybe if you organize with the local business and other home owners in the area and loop in DC government (I know, futile but you have to exhaust all avenues), you might be able at least get Pepco’s attention.

  • Councilman Graham seemed to enjoy tilting at Pepco.

    This new lady, not so much.

  • So my husband and I went for 3 months during the summer of 2012 without A/C and constantly dealing with appliances just shutting down. After paying 4 separate A/c repair companies to look, we discovered the issue was Pepco was not supplying enough voltage to our house. My husband and I would call Pepco no less than 3 times a day with no results. It got so bad I had to go to my Mom’s house for a few weeks because it was impossible to sleep in +95 degree temps in the house, so I truly feel your pain.

    The last resort for us was to send an email and an actual letter to Thomas Graham at Pepco, with copy to all DC council members and our ANC rep, as well as to contact the office of the Peoples Counsel. After that, we started receiving follow up calls from Pepco and crews were in our neighborhood within a week (they spent about 3 weeks upgrading our lines and we haven’t had an issue since). It’s unfortunate, but the only way to get things done is to go way up the ladder. Good luck.

  • Ditto on Brookland. If your power lines are underground (Hill, most of NW), you are golden. Pepco doesn’t invest to underground in transitional, transitioning, or newly transitioned neighborhoods.

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