A Note from Your People's Counsel
Unwavering Advocacy Amid Seismic Change
This is the time when District agencies come before DC Council oversight committees to report on their activities during the previous fiscal year. On February 26, at the Committee on Business and Economic Development, I highlighted OPC’s unprecedented accomplishments, our support for the city’s climate change goals and our new initiatives. We appreciate the comments by public witnesses and Committee Chairman, Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5), praising OPC staff for community outreach and other work on behalf of utility consumers.
In my testimony, I noted that in FY 2018, OPC litigated 31 cases on a broad range of utility issues. We attended almost 300 community events and resolved about 1,600 consumer complaints. I reported on the benefits OPC won for consumers in rate cases. For example, on August 9, 2018, there was a rare occurrence. What started as Pepco requests for tens of millions of dollars in rate hikes ended up as a $24 million rate reduction, thanks to OPC’s vigilance in examining with tooth and nail every attempt to raise your rates. OPC spent significant time last year on the AltaGas/Washington Gas merger. I reported the end-result of OPC’s aggressive advocacy was a settlement agreement that contained 85 commitments by AltaGas to safeguard ratepayers from any financial fallout from the merger and to deliver tangible benefits, including $20.5 million in savings on residential bills.
As Black History Month ends, I am reminded of OPC’s noteworthy history, starting when we became an independent agency of the District government in 1975. Since then, there has been seismic change, from the energy crisis to telecom deregulation, to the surge in renewable energy. Through it all, OPC has remained an unwavering advocate for District consumers as noted in the new “OPC History Highlights 1975-2018.” Click the image below for more.
More than 50 residents attended a DC Public Service Commission community hearing on natural gas leaks on February 6, 2019. About a dozen public witnesses testified, along with People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye and officials from Washington Gas Light (WGL).
The hearing was scheduled after OPC investigated and focused attention on consumer complaints the Office received about leaks in the Georgetown East Village neighborhood and in the 28th and Dumbarton Streets NW area in the summer and fall of 2018, respectively.
At the hearing, consumers cited the effects of gas leaks on the environment, the poor quality and the length of time to repair streets after leaks have been resolved, and recommendations for expanded use of media to alert them to leaks and repairs.
People’s Counsel Mattavous-Frye presented testimony on OPC’s litigation actions related to WGL’s construction programs, gas leak repairs, and safety measures. Aaron Ward, Director of OPC’s Consumer Services Division, also provided information about staff interactions with consumers affected by gas leak. In addition, Ward gave OPC recommendations for improving gas leak education and outreach, including posting a map on WGL’s website to show the location of a leak. In their testimony, WGL officials gave an overview of the utility’s comprehensive service distribution system repair plan, and gas leak repair protocol.
In response, PSC commissioners expressed concerns about the effects of leaks on residents’ safety and health; and asked questions about WGL’s system maintenance program. The Commission said it would schedule a follow-up hearing.
The People's Counsel testifies at PSC hearing on gas leaks.
The Public Service Commission regulates the distribution rates that Pepco customers pay. Under the current construct of designing rates, once the Commission sets them, if Pepco determines that it needs more (or less) revenue, then the utility must file a new rate case and ask the Commission to set a new rate. The Commission has long been signaling interest in exploring alternative ratemaking designs, in part, to reduce the number of rate cases it must consider. On its own, the Commission included “performance-based ratemaking” in Pepco’s 2015-16 rate case. However, nothing definitive on the issue came out of that case.
Pepco has indicated that it plans to file an alternative ratemaking proposal in its next rate case; and it could come as early as May of this year. Specifically, Pepco seems interested in proposing a “multi-year rate plan,” under which annual rates would be set 3-5 years in advance. Pepco also indicated that it plans to propose incentive mechanisms that may reward the company if it meets specific performance goals.
OPC believes that if Pepco is allowed to adopt a new rate design, that design must meet our standard expectation that the utility provide safe and reliable service at affordable rates.
In preparation for Pepco’s filing, and to ensure consumers are protected in any new structure, OPC has been attending Pepco’s stakeholder meetings, conducting research on rate designs used in other jurisdictions, and participating in the Commission’s grid modernization working groups.
OPC Consumer Services Division staff attended a meeting of the Benning Park Apartments Board of Directors on January 24, 2019, to discuss residents’ persistent complaints about their Verizon internet services. The Ward 7 residents informed OPC that slow internet speeds have negatively affected the performance of security cameras on the 229-unit property, consequently raising concerns about their protection from criminal activity in the area.
Representatives of the Edgewood Management Corporation and Verizon also attended the meeting. Company officials said that the dwelling’s distance from Verizon’s office blocked their ability to receive higher speed DSL internet. They added that in order to increase the internet speed needed for the security cameras, Verizon would have to install Fios service, which the company said could be done at no cost to property management. Verizon said it has previously proposed this option to the property. However, board members said they had not received the proposal.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the action plan included review and consideration of the Fios proposal. The terms of the property’s current 10-year contract with Comcast also would be reviewed.
OPC will meet with the tenants again to determine what future steps the Office might be able to take on their behalf to address utility concerns.
OPC staff meets with Benning Park residents.
The Solar Connection is a feature designed to "shine the light" on developments in solar power and educate consumers about the energy option.
With interest in solar energy steadily growing, we thought this would be a good time to give a primer on “net metering.” The District’s net metering laws allow DC consumers to generate their own energy with photovoltaic (PV) installations that connect to the electric grid. Net metering is a billing mechanism that credits solar system owners, referred to as customer-generators, for the electricity they add to the grid. In turn, they offset their electricity consumption and ultimately lower their energy bill.
The May 9, 2000 Retail Electric Competition and Consumer Protection Act is the initial legislation that authorized the Public Service Commission to establish the District’s net energy metering program. In 2003, the PSC adopted OPC’s recommended method for compensating or crediting net metering customers who generate excess electricity for the grid. In 2005, the PSC approved final rules and regulations implementing the net energy metering provisions of the Act. In 2010, the PSC adopted revised net metering rules currently in effect.
The rules that govern how customer-generators interconnect to Pepco’s distribution system are inextricably linked with net metering. The PSC adopted DC small generator interconnection rules in 2009. These rules were recently amended and became effective in January 2019. For more on net metering, see "A DC Consumer's Guide to Going Solar at opc-dc.gov
OPC’s employee spotlight is focused on the agency’s new Senior Assistant People’s Counsel, Anjali Patel. While she may be relatively new on staff at OPC, having started in June of 2018, Anjali is by no means a stranger to the Office. The senior attorney provided expert legal advice to OPC for many years as an out-of-house counsel with a DC-based law firm. Now in-house, Anjali handles both state and federal utility matters under OPC’s Litigation Services Division
An Ohio native, Anjali began her career, not as a lawyer, but as an environmental educator. She even spent time handling live animals before pursuing her Juris Doctor at the University of Michigan (Go BLUE!!!). After law school, Anjali completed a fellowship with the Great Lakes Commission in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where she focused on combating the spread of invasive (non-native, harmful) species, as well as the development of wind energy in the Great Lakes region. Anjali subsequently relocated to the nation’s capital in 2010 to get back to legal matters.
As for recreational matters, Anjali loves to travel and is an avid amateur photographer. OPC is happy to have Anjali officially on board.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1142: The Merger of AltaGas Ltd. and WGL Holdings, Inc.
On January 31, OPC filed a Notice and Request with the PSC asking the Commission to reject the consultant Washington Gas selected and instead select an independent consultant by either issuing its own request for proposals or by directing Washington Gas to issue a public request for proposals and file the submissions with the Commission for evaluation and selection.
Formal Case No. 1153: The Parks at Walter Reed Jurisdiction
In response to a petition by Pepco, the PSC opened a case to determine the extent of its jurisdiction over the electric infrastructure and proposed microgrid at The Parks at Walter Reed, a housing and mixed-use development on the Ward 4 campus of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Although District law gives OPC the right to be a party to the matter as the utility consumer advocate, Pepco is contending that OPC should not be allowed to participate in the negotiations of what the utility deems “a private commercial transaction.” Earlier, OPC challenged Pepco’s attempt to unilaterally exclude the Office from any settlement negotiations that take place within this proceeding. On January 25, 2019, the Commission issued an order giving the parties 60 days to continue settlement discussions before it makes a final decision.
People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye testifies at OPC’s DC Council performance oversight hearing flanked by key staff.
Project Supervisor Laurence Jones speaks to members of UCAN, the Utility Consumer Advocacy Network, a body of community representatives who advise OPC on important consumer issues.
Community Outreach Specialist Denise E. Blackson at the community health fair at St. Martin’s Church in Ward 5.
At the PSC gas leak hearing, Deputy People’s Counsel Karen Sistrunk with Jim Schulman, a Capitol Hill resident who tells Sistrunk: “OPC is hands down the best DC government agency for consumers.”
OPC will be out at the following events:
Energy Efficiency Presentation to Grandfamilies THEARC /strong>
Location:1901 Mississippi Avenue SE
Date: Saturday, March 2nd
Time: 12:30-3:00 pm
Energy Efficiency Workshop /strong>
Location:610 Park Road NW
Date: Thursday, March 7th
Time: 1:00-2:30 pm
Councilmember Trayon White's Community Engagement Forum Martha's Table @ the Commons /strong>
Location:2375 Elvans Road SE
Date: Thursday, March 7th
Info Table Lamond Riggs Public Library /strong>
Location:5401 South Dakota Avenue NE
Date: Friday, March 8th
Time: 3:00-5:00 pm
Energy Efficiency Workshop Patterson DCPS Math Night /strong>
Location:4399 South Capitol Terrace SW
Date: Thursday, March 14th
Time: 5:00-7:00 pm