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Md. governor releases report on electricity system

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- A Maryland task force's recommendations to reduce prolonged power outages after powerful storms includes the possibility of adding $1 or $2 to residents' monthly electric bills to improve the state's electricity distribution system, Gov. Martin O'Malley said Wednesday.

Maryland residents have been beleaguered by lengthy power outages in three potent storms in recent years, including the unusual derecho storm that whipped through the state in June and knocked out power to some for more than a week. O'Malley convened the task force in July in response to the derecho storm. There were also widespread outages in a 2010 snowstorm and Hurricane Irene last year.

"I think most homeowners _ particularly those who found their power out in three of the last three storms or even in two of the last three storms _ would say they're probably willing to pay another dollar or two a month if they're assured that they won't be throwing out two and three hundred dollars worth of groceries every time one of these extreme storms blows through our area," O'Malley said.

The surcharge would allow utilities to recover expenses incurred by improving the electrical distribution system. The governor said that could include putting some power lines underground in selected areas, as well as some other engineering improvements.

"This is about hardening our grid and strengthening our grid so that it can withstand the sort of more frequent and more violent weather events that our heating of our atmosphere is bringing about," O'Malley said.

The recommendations will be sent to the Maryland Public Service Commission for consideration. Money raised by the surcharge would have to be spent in the customers' service areas.

O'Malley said there would have to be a plan in place for what utilities will do with the money, and to verify that the utilities have made improvements.

"So a lot of this stuff actually will be measurable and apparent to the eye and will result in increased performance," O'Malley said.

The panel has made 11 recommendations after holding meetings with community leaders, policy experts and industry stakeholders

The task force evaluated the feasibility of putting supply and distribution lines underground in certain areas. It also examined the effectiveness of infrastructure investments and utility staffing levels.