The OPC CONNECTION - October 2018

 

A Note from Your People's Counsel

SMART GRID: Requires Smart Consumer Engagement

Earlier this month OPC presented to the annual Smart Grid Consumer Education Symposium, this year hosted in Houston, Texas. The invitation to share with a national audience our “lessons learned” is an honor, recognizing the level of advocacy we strive constantly to provide District ratepayers. OPC’s presentation focused primarily on the consumer engagement aspects of developing a plan for infrastructure improvement, executing that infrastructure building plan, and finally, keeping consumers engaged and involved as the plan progresses to establish buy-in and adoption of the plan based on demonstrated benefits to ratepayers. OPC has long insisted that consumers must be a part of the decision-making process, particularly when they must ultimately bear the cost for projects costing hundreds of millions of dollars.

At the Smart Grid Symposium, OPC focused on the lessons learned in the District, first in terms of the Smart Grid Pilot Project, begun as a result of a rate proceeding settlement nearly a decade ago, and later, in response to constant service outages as we demanded better reliability from Pepco. OPC explained the formation of the collaborative effort under the leadership of then-Mayor Vincent Gray and later Mayor Muriel Bowser to create what has become the DC Powerline Undergrounding Plan.

OPC explained that the key to our success has been the “Smart Consumer Engagement” characterized by outreach and continuous education of the public, a process that is more than 6 years in the making. Our outreach encompassed over 100 public meetings with community groups in every corner of the city, updates via social media, printed materials, special briefings, website data, and now the OPC Connection!

This experience positioned OPC to explain to the Symposium that while several years have passed since its start, our extended campaign means we have had a chance to get it right and create an electric distribution system “Smart” enough to meet the needs of the District of Columbia for years to come.

Reported gas leaks in Georgetown and other neighborhoods in the District is an issue OPC is focusing on to protect consumers. For example, in June 2017, Georgetown resident Edward Seagal first contacted OPC about WGL gas leaks in the 2800 block of Dumbarton Street NW. OPC initiated an investigation on his behalf.

To address continued complaints about WGL gas leaks and construction projects throughout the District, OPC petitioned the Public Service Commission to open an investigation into WGL’s pipe replacement program and meter relocation practices. Following discussions with the Commission, representatives of OPC, WGL, the District Department of Transportation, and Office of Planning/Historic Preservation Board developed action items to help resolve concerns.

In late September 2018, Segal again contacted OPC, expressing concerns about the number and frequency of gas leaks in his neighborhood and whether WGL is performing patchwork repairs instead of replacing major system components.

OPC staff talked with representatives from WGL’s Community Involvement Division about the recurring problems. As a result of OPC’s advocacy, both WGL and the Public Service commission are investigating Georgetown residents’ concerns. We will keep you up-to-date on the outcome of the investigations

Ward 3 resident Steven Gamble contacted OPC for assistance with a longstanding Washington Gas billing issue. After several frustrating months of trying to resolve his complaint about increased billing, he called OPC and talked with Laurence Jones, OPC’s Consumer Services Division Project Supervisor. So, OPC got on the case! Here is what Gamble had to say about OPC’s advocacy and positive outcome:

“I want you to know you have an exceptional employee, Laurence Jones. When my frustration was at an all-time high, and inquiries to Washington Gas went unanswered, his knowledge, cheerful demeanor, and persistence in championing my admittedly small grievance was admirable. Such professionalism is rare nowadays. I am grateful and indebted to Mr. Jones for his kindness toward, and patience with me.”

Our consumer services staff have received an increased number of complaints about apparent utility scams targeting seniors, low and moderate income, and limited English speaking District residents. Consumers tell us that these scams involve people impersonating utility workers attempting to come into your home, robotic phone calls offering consumers reduced utility rates and energy bill savings, and high-pressure sales pitches at public locations such as shopping centers. Here are some important tips:

  • Beware of someone who says they are "from the electric or gas company." Utility companies do not go door-to-door to make rate offers and rarely visit your home or randomly stop you on the street unless there is a safety emergency.
  • Third party energy suppliers or TPS companies may offer energy services to District customers. Always request identification from any energy provider or utility workers.
  • Frequently, scammers will ask for consumers' account information or Social Security numbers. DO NOT PROVIDE your UTILITY ACCOUNT NUMBERS, SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER or other personal information. NEVER give this information to phone solicitors.
  • Request all offers in writing, especially limited time offers, and DO NOT sign any documents you have not reviewed.
  • If you have already been contacted or have questions about scams, contract offers, utility services, rates, or utility construction in your neighborhood, contact OPC at (202) 727-3071 to talk with a consumer outreach specialist.

The Lifeline Program provides a discount on telecommunications services of $9.25 per month for eligible low-income consumers. Consumers may receive the discount on either cellular or landline service, but not both.

You can qualify for the Lifeline discount by proving your income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty line or with proof of participation in one of the following programs: Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8), or Veterans or Survivors Pension Benefit programs. The federal income guideline is $16,389 for individuals or $33,885 for a household of four.

Only one member per household may receive the Lifeline discount

To learn more about the Lifeline Program, call OPC or click here.

Apply for the discount by calling DC Lifeline at 800-253.0846.

This month we feature a guest article written by Samantha Tranfa with New Columbia Solar and Alex Winn with Ethos Strategic Consulting, both represent local businesses working to reduce energy costs for District residents.

The Capitol Solar Canopy Cooperative is part of the District of Columbia’s Solar for All Program, which aims to bring the benefits of solar energy to 100,000 low income residents by 2032. The project is one of 10 awardees receiving funding from the District Department of Energy & Environment to help achieve that goal.

The Cooperative is led by Ethos Strategic Consulting, a local stakeholder engagement firm with expertise in innovative solar procurement models, in collaboration with New Columbia Solar, one of the District's largest solar development and installation firms. Their goal is to identify affordable housing with surface parking lots that will feature solar carport structures to reduce electricity costs for residents, LED lighting to enhance safety, and electric vehicle charging stations to help DC residents of all income levels have access to this increasingly affordable mode of transportation.

Property owners should consider how saving with solar is a good use of their site and good for their tenants. The Cooperative has already identified solar projects to provide savings to about 200 residents. Some of these projects will benefit residents directly on their monthly co-op fees, while others may need to sign up to have benefits allocated to them.

An important first step in participating in any Solar For All initiative is to verify your eligibility. For example, income can be no more than $61,750 for a one-person household and up to $88,250 for a house of four.

Learn more about going solar with Ethos and New Columbia Solar here.

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

FC1151 - WGL's Application for Approval of Reduction of Distribution Rates

On January 23, 2018, the Public Service Commission opened Formal Case No. 1151. In that proceeding, the Commission established an investigation to determine the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, which reduced the federal corporate income tax rate from 35% to 21%, on the current revenue requirements of Washington Gas Light Company and Pepco.

OPC was instrumental in successfully negotiating a settlement that resulted in an $8.2 million rate reduction for Washington Gas’ District ratepayers and a $5,101,325 one-time bill credit to refund federal-income-tax-related over collections. The one-time bill credit, which is to be applied by WGL to customer bills in December 2018, was approved by Commission Order on October 17, 2018.

FC1130 - In the Matter of the Investigation into Modernizing the Energy Delivery Structure for Increased Sustainability

On October 15, OPC filed a Motion for Clarification, to hold in Abeyance, and to file Out of Time. This Motion asks the Commission for clarification of the specific subject matter to be addressed in the comment period.

RM27-2016-02 - Commission's Investigation into the Rules Governing Local Exchange Carrier Quality of Service Standards for the District

On October 16, OPC filed a Motion for Enlargement of Time to Submit Initial and Reply Comments Pursuant to the Notice of the Second Proposed Rulemaking. This Motion is to extend the deadlines for the Initial and Reply Comments to be filed.

FC1150 - In the Matter of the Investigation of the Implementation of Interconnection Standards in the District of Columbia & RM40-2017-02-E In The Matter of 15 DCMR Chapter 40 - District of Columbia Small Generator Interconnection Rules

On October 22, OPC filed Initial Comments regarding the Notice of Third Proposed Rulemaking.

Dionne Johnson Calhoun

This month’s employee spotlight features one of OPC’s newest additions, Dionne Johnson Calhoun. Dionne came onboard as Executive Assistant to People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye in April 2018, with years of federal and local government experience.

Previously, Dionne served as chief of staff for At-Large Councilmember David Grosso.

Appointed to the DC Council in 2013, she managed the office’s daily operations, oversaw the Councilmember’s legislative agenda, and served as his chief communications and policy advisor. Dionne also served in the office of Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie. Prior to her stint in the John A. Wilson Building, Dionne worked for six years in the office of U.S. Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

Among her proudest achievements in the position of legislative associate was working with colleagues to draft the “Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009,” of which Congresswoman Norton was an original co-sponsor. The legislation became the first bill former President Barak Obama signed into law upon taking office.

Dionne holds a B.A. in Communication Studies from the University of Maryland. When she is not enjoying activities with her husband and their three sons, Dionne likes to write. The native Washingtonian is an accomplished singer and has performed in the choir behind Bruce Springsteen during the 2009 Super Bowl halftime show. She has also performed before audiences at the “Kennedy Center Honors,” and “Christmas in Washington” events. Dionne says she will forever cherish the honor of singing on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial for President Obama’s pre-inaugural ceremony in 2009.

Recently, Dionne gave an outstanding “performance” as the lead planner of OPC’s successful Staff Appreciation Day and Awards Ceremony.

OPC will be out at the following events:

Project Empowerment/Career Connections
Location:DOES - 4058 Minnesota Avenue NE
Date:Thursday, November 1st
Time:9:00 AM-10:30 AM

DC3C's Next Steps Resource Fair
Location:250 E Street SE
Date:Thursday, November 8th
Time:9:30 AM-2:30 PM

Monroe Street Farmers Market
Location:Arts Walk and Plaza- 716 Monroe Street NE
Date:Saturday, November 10th
Time:10:00 AM-12:00 PM

Tenley Library
Location:4450 Wisconsin Avenue NW
Date:Wednesday, November 14th
Time:3:00 PM-5:00 PM

ANC 6C Meeting
Location:Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue NE
Date:Wednesday, November 14th
Time:7:00 PM-8:00 PM

Energy Efficiency Workshop
Location:4399 South Capitol Street SW
Date:Thursday, November 15th
Time:9:00 AM–10:30 AM