A Note from Your People's Counsel
During these unprecedented times, making consumers aware of resources to help them stay on top of utility bills is paramount.
Therefore, OPC welcomed the June 18 launch of “#Here2HelpDC,” a multiagency public awareness campaign to inform residents and businesses about energy and money-saving initiatives that will help minimize the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Our campaign partners are the DC Public Service Commission (DCPSC), DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU), and the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE).
We’ve banded together to share tips and tools to help consumers conserve energy and water resources, reduce billing costs and to utilize relief and payment programs. We’re all concerned that with many people staying at home and consequently using more electricity, gas and water, you will be burdened by higher bills than usual.
Disconnections of all utility services for non-payment are on hold during the public health emergency, as mandated in DC Council legislation. However, I and fellow agency leaders fear that when the moratoriums are lifted, bills will be hard to handle, particularly for District residents out-of-work and owners of shuttered business experiencing financial hardship.
I hope consumers will take heed and practice good conservation habits. But also know that we are #Here2HelpDC!
DC Water Bills on the Rise
Have you noticed a hike in your DC Water bill? Several issues may be to blame.
The culprit could be a leaky toilet or faucet. Or possibly a DC Water underground water main break. These can all be resolved with a call to DC Water Customer Service – and if needed, with support from the Office of the People’s Counsel.
A primary factor contributing to increasing DC Water bills is funding for the Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge (CRIAC). Since 2009, DC Water customers have paid the fee to help pay for the $2.7 billion, federallymandated Clean River’s Project. The intent of this multi-year effort is to stop sewage and stormwater runoff into the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and Rock Creek.
The CRIAC monthly fee is added to your water bill. Last year, the fee shifted to include charges based on land area and water usage, within the sewage charge. OPC raised concerns about the change.
The good news is that OPC has been vigilant in analyzing DC Water's regulations and proposed rates
OPC will join residents during the DC Water virtual town hall meetings currently underway, where regulations, rate changes and other services will be discussed. Town halls already have taken place in Wards 1, 2 and 3. You may attend the meetings in any ward. Here are the remaining town halls:
- Ward 4, Tuesday, June 30
- Ward 5, Wednesday, July 1
- Ward 7, Tuesday, July 7
- Ward 8, Tuesday July 14
- Ward 6, Wednesday, July 15
With pending rate changes to take effect October 1, 2020 for fiscal year 2021, and October 2, 2021 for fiscal year 2022, OPC will be paying particular attention to the following questions:
- Is DC Water’s proposal in the public interest?
- Are DC Water’s proposed rates just and reasonable?
- Will the proposed rate and fee changes harm customers?
- Is the allocation of the rate increase equitable among the customer classes (residential, multi-family, non-residential)?
In May 2019, Pepco filed a rate increase application with the Public Service Commission that included a proposal that would increase electric rates by more than $162 million over the next three years. This proposal, if adopted, would be a radical departure from the way in which rates are established in the District of Columbia.
OPC and other parties filed testimony detailing how Pepco’s proposal was harmful to consumers and adverse to the public interest. A month before Commission hearings were scheduled to begin, Pepco, on its own initiative, filed what it dubbed an "enhanced" rate increase proposal. The company’s new proposal was accompanied by a press release and a messaging campaign designed to persuade consumers and the Commission that the enhanced proposal should be adopted and would address the financial distress consumers are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While OPC is acutely aware of the hardship consumers are experiencing due to the pandemic, we are not at all buying Pepco’s narrative that the Commission should adopt a harmful ratemaking method in order to provide needed relief to consumers.
See OPC’s fact sheet that dispels a number of myths about Pepco’s "enhanced" rate increase proposal and highlights the short and long term impacts that will be experienced by consumers should the Commission adopt the plan.
OPC continues to play a key role in “Power Path DC,” formerly known as Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability or MEDSIS. On June 8, 2020 the Public Service Commission issued an order approving an additional 11 recommendations to advance grid modernization initiatives in the District.
On May 31, 2019, the Final Working Group Report on Power Path DC was filed with the Commission. The report listed 32 recommendations that the Commission should adopt after the culmination of 50 working group meetings in which OPC participated.
This is the second order the Commission has issued to adopt the working group’s recommendations. Several of the recommendations were put forth to assist customers in accessing their data and moving the proliferation of distributed energy resources throughout the District. Among the recommendations adopted:
- Pepco to improve residential customer access to data via its Green Button Connect My Data;
- Energy Storage Rulemaking to help incorporate the usage of storage in the District;
- Revised MEDSIS Vision Statement;
- Provisions that any policies/ decision making should align with the District’s sustainability goals;
- Pepco ordered to update hosting capacity maps on a monthly basis to be reviewed annually by the Commission;
- Performance Base Ratemaking in the District to be discussed in Formal Case 1156.
OPC remains committed to advancing the Renewable Portfolio Standards in the District through Power Path DC and will continue to engage in working groups to ensure that all policies adopted keep utility rates affordable, safe and sustainable for all District residents as we move toward a carbon neutral DC.
Now more than ever, it is important to make consumers aware of public programs that can help minimize household utility costs and provide critical relief.
The District is still actively enrolling qualified residents in Solar for All, Mayor Muriel Bowser’s effort to help residents cut the cost of their electricity bill up to 50%. The Solar for All program was established by the Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act of 2016.
Since 2016, the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) has been working to increase the amount of solar power generated within the District through local rooftop and community solar projects. DOEE's goal is to extend the benefit to 100,000 low-income households. At the end of 2019, more than 2,000 District households were enrolled in Solar for All and received credits on their electricity bills.
As the pandemic continues, OPC has been working hard to help ratepayers get through these devastating economic times. Collaborating with the DC Council, OPC was able to include several utility consumer protections in the "Coronavirus Support Emergency Amendment Act of 2020," which took effect May 27. The new protections are in addition to relief that OPC worked to get included in two previous Council bills. Legislation includes the following provisions:
- Prohibits utilities from disconnecting service for non-payment of a bill or fees during a public health emergency or 15 calendar days.thereafter. The current public health emergency is through July 24.
- Requires utilities to offer payment plans extending for at least one year to eligible customers upon request.
- Prohibits utilities from reporting delinquencies to credit agencies.
- Prohibits utilities from requiring a lump-sum payment under plans.
- Requires utilities to waive any fee, interest or penalties
- Prohibits utilities from disconnecting service for non-payment of bill or fees where a customer has entered into a payment plan and has made payments in compliance with the terms of the plan.
- Consumers may file a written complaint with OPC if they are denied a payment plan.
OPC works closely with the DC Council on various fronts to craft legislation that will benefit utility consumers.
At the June 25th OPC Fiscal Year 2021 Budget DC Council Markup Hearing... "OPC has stepped up. They have helped create information and resources in a lot of mediums and languages ensuring that all District residents are aware of programs available to them during this current public health emergency." - -Charles Allen, Ward 6 Councilmember
OPC thanks consumers who provided the following comments in support of our budget request.
"OPC is a real Godsend. I really appreciate everything that has been done to help me with my high water bill. I was worried about being able to pay. Now I have some peace of mind. I don’t know what I would have done without your help…I applaud People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye’s efforts to improve utility reliability and keep costs affordable for consumers." -- Janice Holiday, Ward 7 resident
"OPC has done an impressive job, investigating hundreds of complaints and a wide range of questions from DC Water ratepayers…OPC is also doing wonderful work for consumers on the biggest utility case currently before the PSC, the Pepco rate case."-- Ann Lane Mladinov, ANC3B Commissioner
"My husband passed away suddenly…Still in shock and grieving, I was overwhelmed with bills and court related issues. Then came the epidemic…so I desperately needed help paying my utilities…Almost immediately I was contacted by Valca Valentine [who] was understanding and reassuring…She and Linda Jefferson found funds [for me] to pay my outstanding water, gas and Pepco bills. I am extremely grateful to have the help and support of the Office of the People’s Counsel."-- Hanife Conry, Ward 5 resident
"OPC has worked with the DC Council to pass emergency legislation to prohibit utilities from disconnecting consumers for non-payment of bills or fees during the pandemic and worked with the DC Council to pass legislation requiring utilities to allow consumers to enter into payment arrangements…As a former ANC 4A Commissioner, I am glad to know that we have a true advocate in Office of the People’s Counsel."-- Karrye Y. Braxton, Ward 4 resident
"I experienced a sewer back up, subsequently my laundry room and adjacent bathroom were flooded…As someone who has had a positive experience with the Office of the People’s Council in the past and very satisfactory outcome regarding a separate issue, I immediately reached out." -- Donalee Woo, Ward 4 resident
"OPC provides a vital function for residents of the District of Columbia. The agency has done a fantastic job since April 2019 of expanding its scope to include representation of DC Water customers. The agency has also turned in another fiscal year with stellar performance representing DC ratepayers before the Public Service Commission." -- Victoria Leonard, LiUNA Baltimore - Washington Laborers’ District Council
Outstanding customer service is a standard OPC works daily to achieve. And it doesn't happen without top-notch professionals on staff. Meet Community Outreach Specialist Rusheeda Boyd, who came on board as part of the launch of the new Water Services Division in April of 2019. Rusheeda's role at OPC includes connecting with DC Water customers to help resolve their complaints
Rusheeda has been recognized for her exemplary customer service and success in achieving favorable resolutions for consumers who were not satisfied with decisions by DC Water.
Rusheeda's parents immigrated from Kingston, Jamaica to Washington, DC where she was born. Subsequently, Rusheeda was raised in Prince George’s County, where a grown-up Rusheeda attended Bowie State University and graduated with a bachelor's degree in psychology.
Prior to coming to OPC, Rusheeda spent 10 years with the Prince George's County Department of Social Services. There, she assisted vulnerable children and adults obtain services and resources ranging from shelter, food and clothing, to mental health care. Rusheeda draws on her years of relevant human services experience and understanding of government and nonprofit programs to help secure wrap-around services for DC Water consumers.
Off the clock, Rusheeda takes advantage of her real estate license to help associates achieve the American dream of home ownership. "There is no joy quite like seeing a family finally move into a home of their own in their community of choice," she states
An avid Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon binge watcher, Rusheeda also likes to travel. Frequently visiting family in St. Maarten and Jamaica, her traveling curiosity does not end there. Rusheeda has vacationed in Dubai, Egypt, Cuba, Thailand and Alaska, and is actively seeking new lands to discover
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1162:
In the Matter of the Application of Washington Gas Light Company for the Authority to Increase Existing Rates and Charges for Gas Service
On May 29, OPC filed a Motion to Compel Washington Gas to respond to Data Request No. 11. OPC seeks additional information from WGL in order to determine the factual basis for the costs and the basis for the regulatory rate treatment WGL is seeking for the costs and is requesting the Commission compel WGL to provide the requested information.
On May 29, OPC filed a Motion to Extend the Procedural Deadline and Clarify Order No. 20338, or as the Alternative, Request for Limited Reconsideration. OPC and the Joint Intervenors requested the Commission issue an Order: extending the May 29, 2020, deadline to issue data requests concerning WGL’s direct and supplemental direct testimony, or, in the alternative, grant limited reconsideration of its Order No. 20338 establishing certain discovery deadlines and authorize rolling discovery throughout this proceeding; and revise the deadline for the submission of OPC and Intervenor Direct Testimony.
On June 5, OPC filed a Motion to Compel Washington Gas to respond to Data Request No. 16. OPC requests the Commission direct WGL to respond to OPC Data Request No. 16-2(d) in full.
Formal Case No. 1156:
The Pepco Application to Implement a Multiyear Rate Plan for Electric Distribution Service
On June 1, OPC filed Public & Confidential Surrebuttal Testimonies of its expert witnesses related to a range of issues in this matter
On June 8, OPC filed a letter to the Chairman of the Public Service Commission requesting a Set of Proposed Protocols & Logistical Details. In view of the District’s pandemic public health emergency restrictions and the fast approaching hearing date, OPC requested the Commission provide all parties with a set of proposed protocols and logistical details to explain how the Commission proposes to conduct the Formal Case No. 1156 evidentiary hearing.
On June 8, OPC filed a Joint Motion to Strike Pepco’s Surrebuttal Testimony and for Summary Judgment. OPC requested the Commission strike Pepco’s surrebuttal testimony concerning its “MRP Enhanced Proposal,” and rule summarily to reject the MRP portion of Pepco’s rate case application as both of these actions would be in the public interest.
Out of the office but still in touch, Office staff make an "OPC Connection."
OPC's Stephen Marencic (upper left) zooms into the ANC3E meeting to make residents of the AU Park, Tenleytown and Friendship Heights neighborhoods aware of OPC 's continuing services for utility consumers during COVID-19
At the ANC1A virtual meeting, Valca Valentine of OPC's Water Services Division informs residents of the Columbia Heights and Pleasant Plains neighborhoods that there is assistance available to help them pay their DC Water bill if they are experiencing financial hardship due to the pandemic.