A Note from Your People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye
A Season for Overcoming Challenges
Tis the season for spring cleaning and blossoms blooming, but also the time for testifying…when District agencies come before DC Council oversight committees to report on their work during the previous fiscal year. On March 3, 2021 at the Committee on Business and Economic Development, I highlighted OPC’s accomplishments during fiscal year 2020, despite these challenging times. I am proud of how OPC staff stepped up to ensure continuous advocacy, education and protection of utility consumers while performing telework.
In my testimony, I noted that OPC worked with the DC Council to draft legislation that imposed a moratorium on utility disconnections that remains through May 20. I informed the Committee that we created a coronavirus page on opc-dc.gov to assist consumers in finding available resources.I mentioned that OPC filed a petition with the Public Service Commission in May 2020, recommending that it establish a task force to develop programs to assist consumers struggling to pay utility bills prior to the expiration of the public health emergency. It took 10 months for the Commission to act.
OPC also was busy handling 1,768 consumer complaints; attending 500+ outreach events; litigating four multi-million-dollar utility rate cases; and creating a Climate Change Division that is already playing an active role in utility proceedings.
Now, in this fiscal year 2021,we are preparing consumers for recovery at the end of the public health emergency and doing what we can to aid households devastated by financial and personal challenges.
Last month’s events in Texas, where a severe winter storm triggered widespread outages, were both heartbreaking and raised questions about the District’s own vulnerability to similar events.
OPC knows that reliability is critical for every consumer and is focused on developing policies that ensure reliability in an affordable and sustainable manner. OPC also recognizes that climate change means we will face more frequent extreme weather events. That is why it’s critical that we act now to cost-effectively and equitably advance the District’s ambitious climate change goals. And while there are no guarantees, there are several significant differences between Texas and the District.
For example, Texas operates a single-state transmission grid with very limited interconnection to the rest of the country. The District is part of PJM Interconnection, LLC, one of the largest transmission operators in the world. This gives Pepco access to over 180,000 MW of electricity generated across 13 states. Additionally, PJM is part of the Eastern Interconnection which connects PJM to grids in the northeast and mid-west. This allows PJM to import power if needed to keep the lights on in your home.
PJM also has a capacity or reserve market designed to ensure that resources are available in the future. Texas does not. To be sure, the capacity market is controversial and OPC is actively working with PJM and other stakeholders to develop an approach that cost-effectively ensures future reliability while allowing states to independently pursue important public policy goals.
In 2014, PJM and the District experienced a similar severe weather event - the Polar Vortex. While energy reserves were tight, prices spiked, and natural gas customers experienced disruptions, there were no significant Pepco outages.
OPC recently participated in a conference held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on credit issues for energy providers and related entities. FERC regulates the wholesale electric markets that provide power to the District. The conference focused on the prevention and impact of credit defaults, when companies are unable to pay their bills, in the markets like PJM Interconnection, LLC. PJM runs the power grid that serves the District and 13 states.
OPC reminded FERC that consumers bear the risk of market defaults because losses from any defaults are shared among PJM members and passed along to consumers in higher costs and rates. For example, the 2018 default by energy trading firm Green Hat cost customers in the PJM region, including DC consumers, about $160 million.
For that reason, OPC emphasized the importance of market transparency. Transparency makes it less likely that a company that engages in risky behavior can hide its losses. Transparency helps minimize risk to consumers by making defaults less likely to occur and less costly if they do occur. FERC, as the federal regulator, is in the unique position to require this level of transparency to protect consumers.
Finally, OPC emphasized that while energy traders like Green Hat dominate these financial issues, good credit policy also should consider credit risks related to those who own power plants or transmission lines. Defaults by these market participants may not only be more costly for consumers but could have greater widespread impacts – including to reliability itself.
The pandemic affected many activities throughout the District, including OPC’s ability to communicate with utility consumers how we continue to advocate,educate and protect. A year ago, who knew that just weeks after we launched our “OPC Radio Connect” podcast in conjunction with DC Radio online and 96.3 HD4, we would be forced to shut down production due to DC Government social distancing restrictions developed to stop the spread of coronavirus and protect staff and constituents.
Fortunately, the programs we createdcontinue to recycle on the radio, on many podcasts apps like Spotify and Apple, and are on opc-dc.gov. Better still, OPC has developed the tools to continue creating new shows and is now on pace to deliver new content each month to inform you of issues such as our outreach and coordination with community organizations to resolve complex consumer issues and our efforts to focus on utility affordability issues specific to the District. We want you to see how these findings will influence rate proceedings and consumer protections in the months to come.
As OPC focuses on helping consumers recover from the pandemic, OPC Radio Connect is just one of the tools we are using to keep consumers up to with the latest utility news and information. We encourage you to tune in to DC Radio 96.3 HD4, be on the lookout for our new content on DCRadio.gov, and check out our.
OPC Gets into the Weeds to Get a Win for DC Consumer
OPC takes great pride in getting results for utility consumers. Recently, Rakesh Patel realized that he was billed from 2015-2020 as a commercial business instead of a residence. Even after Pepco changed the Ward 1 resident’s billing to the proper rate classification, Pepco refused to re-calculate Mr. Patel’s bills and told him that he was responsible for the error.
In early February, after getting nowhere on his own, Mr. Patel contacted OPC to file a complaint. OPC requested his billing history for review and analysis. OPC’s economist found that the customer was entitled to asubstantial credit and that if Pepco had performed its annual review for all similar rate class customer accounts, Mr. Patel’s would have been flagged due to low usage compared to usage by commercial accounts.
OPC requested that the customer’s bills be changed to reflect the proper rate class and that 5 ½ years of bills be recalculated. Thanks to OPC’s involvement, Mr. Patel received a net credit of $1,512 after Pepco re-calculated his account using the residential rate class for July 2015 to February 2021 bills.
OPC also has requested that Pepco review the accounts of all tenants in Mr. Patel’s Columbia Heights building to see if they also might have been overbilled and are due a credit.
If you are unable to resolve a billing dispute with a utility, you can file a complaint with OPC here.
WSD News You Can Use
OPC’s Water Services Division's (WSD) advocacy and assistance for consumers is stronger than ever. While the pandemic has boosted requests for help to a high volume, the WSD Team is doubling efforts to meet the demand.
Mark your calendar for WSD’s 2-year Anniversary Event: Tuesday, April 27 th. The 2:00 PM virtual gathering will offer WSD updates and expert presentations on assistance for water consumers and flood prevention.
The following updates may be news you can use
DC Water’s Multifamily Assistance Program (MAP)
Funds are available for tenants who live in multifamily dwellings.
Both tenants and property owners are eligible to apply for the program.
Enactment of the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority Omnibus Amendment Act of 2020 brings Key Changes for Consumers:
Customers will have 20 calendar days to dispute a bill from the bill issue date.
OPC’s contact information will be listed on water bills and on DC Water’s website.
Can Solar Works DC Work for You?
Solar Works DC is a solar installation jobs training program under the Department of Energy and Environment (DDOE) and the Department of Employment Services (DOES), and part of the DC Solar for All (SFA) initiative. SFA was established in the Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act of 2016 and provides the benefits of free solar installation to 100,000 low-income households, nonprofits, and small businesses to help them lower energy usage and utility bills.
In conjunction with the two District agencies, Grid Alternatives trains DC residents to install solar systems on the roofs of low-income homeowners. Solar Works DC (SWDC) trainees gain a valuable workforce development experience. SWDC boasts more than 250 graduates installing more than 175 SFA solar systems.
SWDC consists of three cohorts per year with a 12-week program in the spring and fall, plus a 6-week summer youth employment program. The trainees earn Occupational Safety and Health Administration certificates and take the solar energy practitioners credentialing exam. CPR, case management, resume writing, interviewing, and public speaking classes complete the suite of SWDC program workshops.
If you are interested in participating in Solar Works DC, go to https://bit.ly/3sfKzpn.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1167: Implementation of Electric and Natural Gas Climate Change Proposals
On February 18, OPC filed a Motion for Implementation of Next Steps with recommendations. OPC agrees with the Commission’s recommendations, however, OPC posed eight questions to the Commission regarding utility proposals.
Formal Case No. 1154: Washington Gas Light Company’s Request for Approval of a Revised Accelerated Pipe Replacement Plan
On March 15, OPC filed a Joint Motion to Institute a Technical Conference Process. Having a technical conference will allow the stakeholders the opportunity to discuss the results of the Commission approving PROJECTpipes-2 and allow questions on the approved proposal to be opened to the public.
As Women’s History Month comes to a close, OPC salutes People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye. Read about her journey to OPC in “History Highlights.”
During the COVID-19 crisis, OPC welcomes the opportunity to speak at your Advisory Neighborhood Commission, civic association or community group meeting. We can give updates on utility issues and tell how we are continuing to serve during the pandemic via telework. Call (202) 727- 3071 if your group would like our staff to "zoom in."
Staff from #Here2HelpDC agencies--OPC and the Public Service Commission, assist Living Classrooms at the James C. Dent House Community Center in Ward 6 at a food and lightbulb distribution. Signify Lighting Company donated the energy efficient bulbs and the agencies provided information on where to find help to pay utility bills.
OPC continues to help our neighbors where we can by supporting community groups like Living Classrooms in Southwest DC.
OPC Policy Analyst Phillip Harmon explains how the #Here2HelpDC campaign is reaching out to utility consumers online and on the streets to provide pandemic relief.
OPC Public Information Officer Doxie McCoy pitches in at the James Creek Resident Council community foodbank in Southwest. OPC distributed utility information, energy saving lightbulbs and food to dozens of families at two Southwest locations.