A Note from Your People's Counsel
No One Size Fits All
On July 22nd I accepted an invitation to address the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) to speak on “Using Advanced Technology to Close the Energy Access and Affordability Gap for Low-and-Moderate Income Utility Consumers.” Trends such as the movement toward clean and renewable energy, and the efforts of many utilities to radically change the regulatory practices governing their rates and services, may pose a threat to consumers’ expectation of affordable and reliable utility services, particularly for low-and-moderate income (LMI) consumers.
I told conference attendees from around the nation we must first understand the true definition of “low-and-moderate income.” In the District of Columbia, the wealth of some residents raises the median income to $97,000, almost double the national average. Yet, 60% of District residents earn far less and must still bear the cost of living in one of the wealthiest cities in the world. Working families, single mothers, and seniors all broaden the category of LMI consumers who must juggle limited resources to cover housing, food, healthcare, and utility costs.
I implored the utility commissioners to emphasize “equity” as they focus on advanced technologies and energy options such as solar power and electric transportation. No “one size fits all.” For example, rooftop solar might not meet the needs of many LMI consumers who live in older homes or cannot afford the upfront costs of solar panels. There must be cost-saving and creative initiatives to widen access to these communities. I shared examples of programs operated by the District, such as Solar for All, energy efficiency upgrades, and tax incentives that contribute to equity. Read my full presentation here.
I appreciate these opportunities to speak to a national audience to share my belief that the District is a leader in shaping the nation’s energy future.
On July 11, OPC hosted officials from PJM Interconnection, the regional grid operator that moves wholesale electricity into the District, for a discussion on "fuel security," as seen in the photo. Mike Bryson, PJM’s Senior Vice President of Operations, and Jonathon Monken, Senior Director – System Restoration and Strategic Coordination, outlined to People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye, OPC staff, Public Service Commissioner Greer Gillis, and staff from the Commission and Office of the Attorney General how an evolving energy generation landscape and threats to the system impact PJM’s ability to provide resilient and reliable service to consumers in the District of Columbia and the 13 states PJM serves.
Last year, PJM produced a report that reviewed more than 300 different scenarios and found that there was no immediate threat to the reliability of PJM’s system. However, PJM did find that there was a risk of loss of load, or brownout, in certain extreme circumstances. Among those circumstances were prolonged hot or cold spells, disruptions in fuel supply like a natural gas pipeline leak, combined with the shutdown of nuclear, coal and oil facilities. Working with OPC and other member organizations, PJM is currently analyzing potential threats and the likely impacts on the system. That stakeholder process will continue until late this year and will be followed by a discussion about reforms that may be needed to meet any fuel security gaps. Reforms could include changes to PJM’s operating procedures, planning process, or markets.
OPC has been actively involved throughout this process. While we all need a reliable electric delivery system, any reforms must consider both the economic and environmental impact. This includes the role renewable energy can play in providing fuel security to ensure electricity keeps moving to your household.
Keeping you in the know about OPC outreach & education for DC Water consumers
Water Services Division Community Outreach Specialist Valca Valentine (right) speaks with attendees at the 2019 DC Senior Fest in June.
An OPC Priority: Ensuring Safe, Affordable and Plentiful Water
Heavy rains stunned the District of Columbia and the region recently, swelling ponds and rivers, and attacking overburdened underground infrastructure. And yet, the abundance of rainfall did not ease the need to replenish the city’s water supply. According to the United Nations, 4 out of every 10 people are affected by water scarcity. They include DC residents.
Ensuring access to clean and affordable water is among OPC’s top priorities, as the Office is now the statutory advocate for DC Water consumers. OPC is partnering with DC Water, and local and federal lawmakers to not only ensure access, but also to protect the city’s water resources to safeguard public health.
Legislators and environmentalists continue to strategize on approaches to water resource management. With water ratepayers experiencing the impact of rising costs, it’s OPC’s mission to educate consumers about how they also can do their part, says Chandler Crumlin, Manager of OPC’s new Water Services Division.
Here are tips to conserve water and reduce water bills:
- Keep an eye on your bill to spot leaks
- Turn off the tap while washing hands and brushing teeth
- Reduce flushing
- Use commercial car washers instead of your hose
- Skip multiple daily showers
This month’s Employee Spotlight features a newcomer to OPC, Chandler Crumlin, Manager of OPC’s brand new Water Services Division. At OPC for three months now, Chandler and WSD staff have hit the ground running.
Chandler oversees the day-to-day operations of the division to not only resolve water and sewer consumer complaints, but also to make ratepayers in all eight wards aware that they have a new ally ready to advocate, educate and protect their right to fair, equitable, affordable, and reliable water services.
Even though he may be a new face at OPC, Chandler is definitely not new to the public utility space. A 20-year professional in the field, he previously managed customer assistance programs at Pepco and Baltimore Gas and Electric/BGE.
Chandler is a native Washingtonian but spent his teen and early adult years in Baltimore. His hobbies are experiencing live music events, reading, and listening to science fiction audiobooks. He recently dove into the first Game of Thrones book, describing it as "excellent.” And wouldn’t you know, he “loves to be near water.”
Chandler boasts that he can "cook with the best of them." We can’t wait for the next employee potluck lunch when Chandler can have a chance to prove himself!
Highlighting Feedback from Consumers
On July 1, Jared Cutright, a Ward 4 resident, emailed OPC, stating that overhead utility lines were hanging dangerously low across his backyard. He wrote that he had reached out to various telecommunications providers but hadn’t received any responses. OPC immediately contacted Pepco, Verizon and the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music & Entertainment on his behalf to request an inspection. Cutright told OPC staff he would take photos of the lines to share. But the very next evening, we received the following email:
“I went outside to take photos of the lines when I got home from work this evening. Much to my delight, there turned out to be nothing to take a picture of —the low hanging w ires are gone!!
“I can’t thank you enough for your assistance! As a former government employee, I know how it feels to be on the end of complaints and requests. If there is a supervisor that I can send a note of appreciation to, please feel free to pass along their contact info. I’ll also send a note to the Mayor’s office and Councilman Todd as well.”
OPC would not be able to successfully carry out its mission to advocate, educate and protect DC consumers if not for the relationships it has built with various sectors of the community. That includes the religious community.
It’s a two-way street when it comes to relations between OPC and religious institutions. For example, our Consumer Services Division has conducted energy efficiency workshops for youth at after school and summer programs such as the 2019 summer camp at Bethel Christian Fellowship in Ward 8.
In the June OPC Connection, we told you about the Office’s ongoing efforts to help houses of worship reduce energy bills and highlighted how OPC was instrumental in getting St. Luke Baptist Church in Northwest to participate in a solar installation project. We also were pleased to receive a letter of thanks from People’s Congregational United Church of Christ in Ward 4 for “services and attention given to the restoration of church property.”
In October 2018, Washington Gas informed People’s Congregational of a gas line replacement project that would happen on church grounds. Later, the church sought OPC’s help after delays in the completion of the project kept the church from restoring its parking lot, walkways and grass, all repairs necessary due to gas company construction. People’s Congregational leaders said they were able to get their property back to normal in May because of OPC’s “persistence and contact with Washington Gas after many broken promises.”
Their letter praised Laurence Daniels, OPC’s Director of Litigation; and Silvia Garrick, Consumer Outreach Specialist, for “dedication and professionalism,” adding, they “have clearly lived up to [OPC’s] mission statement of representing consumers in their complaints related to services from utility companies.”
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
PEPACR2019-01-E: Pepco's 2019 Annual Consolidated Report
On June 18, OPC filed Initial Comments regarding Pepco’s 2019 Annual Consolidated Report (PEPACR), which contains the company’s Productivity Improvement Plan, Comprehensive Plan, and Manhole Event Report. In its comments, OPC provided recommendations on the report and requested additional information from Pepco.
RM27-2019-01 (Rulemaking): The Commission's Investigation into the Rules Governing Local Exchange Carrier Quality of Service Standards for the District
On June 24, OPC filed Letter Comments regarding a May 24 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. OPC supports the proposed amendments that would change the definitions of the "Abandonment of Certification Application," and the "Abandonment of Service Application."
RM162019-01-M: The Commission’s Rules Governing Pole Attachments in the District
On July 8, OPC filed Initial Comments on a Third Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. OPC asked the Commission to reconcile its proposal to remove the term "pole attachment" from the definitions section with its apparent intention to retain the term in the revised rules.
Formal Case No. 1142: The Merger Application of AltaGas Ltd. and WGL Holdings, Inc.
On July 9, OPC filed a Response to AltaGas Merger Condition No. 5, which requires that the company file a plan for the 10 MW [electric grid energy storage or tier one renewable resources] project for approval by the Commission. OPC’s position is that WGL’s revised filing still lacks specifics in several key areas and does not represent a plan that is ready for Commission approval.
People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye and staff brief DC AARP members on Pepco's proposed $162 million rate increase request. See our fact sheet.
The kids at Bethel Christian Fellowship love the OPC backpacks, a gift for learning about energy efficiency at our workshop for summer campers.
OPC Attorney Grace Soderberg discusses DC Water's plan to change its water and sewer rates with UCAN, the Utility Consumer Advocacy Network.
Consumer Outreach Specialist Erica Jones shows how OPC helps water, electric, gas and local phone consumers with service and billing issues at the DC Department on Aging Senior Symposium.
At an ANC4D meeting, OPC Attorney Adrienne Mouton-Henderson updates Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and Ward 4 residents on utility news.
OPC will be out at the following events:
Trusted Health Plan, District of Columbia “Back to School Bash” St. Elizabeths Gateway DC Pavilion
Location:2700 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE
Date:Saturday, Aug 3
National Night Out Riggs LaSalle Recreation Center
Location:501 Riggs Road NE
Date:Tuesday, August 6
Time:5:00 pm - 9:00 pm
National Night Out Benning Park Community Center
Location:5100 Southern Avenue SE
Date:Tuesday, August 6
Time:3:00 pm - 7:00 pm
Glover Park Farmers Market Hardy Middle School Parking Lot
Location:1819 35th Street NW
Date:Saturday, August 10
Time:10:00 am - 12:00 pm
Barry Farm Family and Friends Day Barry Farm Field
Location:1230 Sumner Road SE
Date:Saturday, August 10
Time:10 am - 5 pm