A Note from Your People's Counsel
Balancing Clean Energy, Sustainability and Affordability to Protect DC Consumers
On December 18th, the DC Council gave final approval to the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Bill, landmark legislation that requires the city to address climate change by accelerating the District’s transition to a more renewable power supply. The legislation is expected to become law after a 30-day congressional review period.
The Office of the People’s Counsel strongly supports the goals of this important measure and the urgency in acting now to address climate change for future generations. The District must stay on course to meet its ambitious clean energy goals but at the same time keep utilities affordable, particularly for lower income households. The challenge is going to be how to balance these competing objectives.
Whatever mechanisms are considered to implement the bill, raising DC residents’ utility rates cannot be the only funding stream. There must be a focused effort on developing alternative financing, such as federal grants, utilitygovernment partnerships or private initiatives. As the advocate for utility consumers, OPC will work to ensure that any transition to a cleaner energy future does not require that District ratepayers bear undue and unfair financial burdens.
At countless community events, OPC’s outreach staff educate consumers about the importance of practicing energy efficiency to save money on utility bills. We will continue to focus on educating consumers. But we also will continue focus on keeping utility rates affordable; as we collaborate with utility, government and private partners to accomplish the District’s critical sustainability goals.
Finally, on behalf of my staff at OPC, I wish you Happy Holidays and a Productive New Year!
At their final meeting of the year, DC councilmembers voted to approve the “DC Water Consumer Protection Amendment Act of 2018,” legislation introduced in January by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and other councilmembers. The bill authorizes the Office of the People’s Counsel to assist DC Water ratepayers with complaints or disputes related to their water and sewer services.
For decades, OPC has represented consumers of electric, natural gas and telecommunications products with their utility service matters. OPC’s representation includes resolving consumer complaints, conducting public education and outreach, and providing legal representation before the Public Service Commission in matters such as rate increase requests. Under the Consumer Protection Act, OPC’s activities on behalf of water consumers will be to assist with complaints. The legislation must now be forwarded to Mayor Muriel Bowser for a 10-day consideration period, thereafter it will be forwarded to the U.S. Congress for a 30-day congressional review. We anticipate the legislation will become law in March 2019.
In the meantime, OPC is planning to hire and train new staff and address administrative needs in collaboration with DC Water
We appreciate the comments from a satisfied consumer who sought OPC's help solving a local Verizon issue. Ms. Loikow of Ward 3 writes:
"Thank you so much! OPC works miracles. I got a call from Verizon this morning and was told they would reverse the [disputed] charge. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
The Solar Connection is a feature designed to "shine the light" on developments in solar power and educate consumers about the energy option.
In an effort to expand access to solar energy, the District Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) recently issued income guidelines for participation in the city’s “Solar for All” program. Households with income thresholds ranging from $65,650 to $123,750 may be eligible to get assistance to install solar for free.
Solar for All is expected to bring the benefits of solar energy to 100,000 low- and moderate-income DC households. DOEE has said that Solar for All participants should expect their electric bill to be cut in half over 15 years. DOEE has selected nine grantees to install solar on single-family homes and develop community solar projects throughout the District. Solar United Neighbors of D.C. and GRID Alternatives Mid-Atlantic are two grantees who are currently installing solar on rooftops for single-family homeowners. Groundswell and Neighborhood Solar Equity are grantees that are now accepting applications from income-eligible households to participate in community solar projects.
Eligibility: Household income is 80% of the Area Median Income (AMI) or lower.
Dr. Yohannes Mariam
OPC staff members know just where to go to get help with a complicated issue involving a charge on a consumer’s bill. We head to the office of Dr. Yohannes Mariam, OPC’s Senior Economist. Originally from Ethiopia, Yohannes relocated to Canada in 1985 to pursue his Ph.D. in Economics, Agricultural Economics and Anthropology from McGill University. He later moved to the District and landed at OPC in 2008.
Dr. Mariam is in OPC’s Technical Division. He interfaces with every other division and gets into the weeds on a variety of fronts, offering insight and guidance for the benefit of DC ratepayers. On any given day, he could be called upon to provide research for the People’s Counsel’s testimony before the DC Council, analysis of a consumer complaint to help the Consumer Services Division decide a course of action to resolve the complaint, data for energy efficiency and sustainability initiatives, or to provide the latest financial market information on natural gas and electricity prices.
When he’s not on the job, Yohannes enjoys reading and being outdoors, especially working in his garden. He also is a big soccer enthusiast and enjoys binge-watching action movies on TV. When asked what his favorite action movie is, without hesitation, he responded with, “Go ahead…make my day!” You might recall, that’s a phrase made famous by Clint Eastwood in “Dirty Harry.” When it comes to his days at OPC, Yohannes is “a man of action” in his own right.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
On December 21, 2018, OPC took action in four cases:
Formal Case No. 1142:
OPC filed a motion requesting the Commission to convene a status conference regarding the financial health of AltaGas Ltd and Washington Gas Light Company.
Formal Case Nos. 1115 and 1154:
OPC filed a motion seeking additional time to file comments in response to WGL’s second phase of its Project Pipes Plan.
Formal Case No. 1017:
OPC filed reply comments in a proceeding that examines the manner in which Pepco, the provider of Standard Offer Service, acquires electricity from the wholesale market.
Formal Case No. 712, RM3-2014-01 (Rule Making), Order No. 19759: The Consumer Bill of Rights (CBOR)
On December 14, 2018, the Public Service Commission issued the expanded and revised CBOR in the D.C. Register, providing enhanced protection for utility consumers. The CBOR establishes the rights and responsibilities of consumers and service providers of natural gas, electric, and local telephone services, as well as enforcement authority to ensure District residents are adequately protected. OPC had petitioned the PSC to strengthen ratepayer protections in the Consumer Bill of Rights. Among the new rights requested and won by OPC, energy suppliers selling online are now required to provide consumers with electronic contracts that can be saved.
Formal Case No. 1153: Pepco's Petition for an Investigation to Determine the PSC’s Jurisdiction to Regulate the Electric Distribution System at The Parks at Walter Reed
On December 12, 2018, OPC sent a letter in response to the Joint Motion for Abeyance and an Expedited Ruling Pepco filed with the Commission on behalf of the "Parties," on December 11, 2018; On December 17, 2018, OPC filed a Conditional Opposition to that Motion.
RM27-2016-02: The Commission's Investigation into the Rules Governing Local Exchange Carrier Quality of Service Standards for the District
On December 12th, 2018, OPC filed Initial Comments on the Notice of Second Proposed Rule Making.
Formal Case No. 1130: The Investigation into Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability (MEDSIS)
On December 12, 2018, OPC filed Initial Comments regarding Pepco 's Transportation and Electrification Program.
Formal Case No. 1144: Pepco's Formal Notice of Construction of the Capital Grid Project
On December 10, 2018, OPC filed Supplemental Initial Comments on Pepco's errata to Quanta Technology's October 30, 2018 study.
RM1-2018-01: The PSC Investigation into its Rules of Practice and Procedure
On November 29, 2018, OPC filed an Unopposed Motion for Leave to File Out of Time and Comments on Notice of Proposed Rule Making Released October 19, 2018.
People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye receives the Outstanding Citizen Activist Award from Earl Williams, President of the Federation of Citizens Associations at their Holiday Awards Luncheon.
The People’s Counsel and staff distribute information about OPC’s services to thousands of guests at the Mayor’s 20th Annual Senior Holiday Celebration at the DC Armory.
Consumer Services Director Aaron Ward (seated end of table) discusses issues facing senior consumers at a DC Council hearing on a bill to create a seniors strategic plan.
Community Outreach Specialist Denise Blackson hangs out with “royalty,” Christian Jones, Employment Coordinator at the DC Department of Disability Services Rehabilitation Administration, at a career fair.
OPC will be out at the following events:
MLK Peace Expo Resource Fair
Location:New York Avenue Presbyterian Church 1313 New York Avenue NW
Date: Sunday, January 13th
Time:2:30 - 6:00 PM
Project Empowerment/DC Career Connections
Location:4058 Minnesota Avenue NE
Date:Thursday, January 17th
Time:9:45 - 11:00 AM
Short Term Family Housing Celebration Series
Location:The Triumph - 4225 6th Street SE
Date:Saturday, January 19th
Time:12:00 - 4:00 PM