A Note from Your People's Counsel
We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby!
As the advocate for utility consumers in the District of Columbia, the Office of the People’s Counsel is mandated to monitor, investigate and put all efforts into ensuring that all utilities deliver reliable services in all eight wards of the city. Such is the case with the July 27, 2019 Pepco power outage at its Florida Avenue Substation that left 21,000 customers in Northwest in the dark.
On November 6, the DC Public Commission held a hearing for Pepco to report on the cause of the outage and any corrective action. I provided hearing testimony on behalf of Pepco consumers. But even before the hearing, OPC posed several questions to Pepco. We also reviewed the utility’s reports on the outage, which detailed egregious errors and substandard maintenance practices at the Florida Avenue Substation.
Despite this incident, I noted that we’ve come a long way from the “dark days” when major outages were commonplace. As Pepco’s rates have increased over the past 10 years to support maintenance and infrastructure upgrades, there are indications that Pepco has improved reliability overall in the city. Unfortunately, there remain a number of neighborhoods that are experiencing less than reliable service. Further improvement is needed.
When outages occur, Pepco’s ability to accurately identify the cause and design remediation efforts to avoid future outages is critical. OPC will continue to pay close attention and raise these issues. You can view some of my comments on Facebook @DCPeoplesCounsel.com and read the full testimony here.
From all of us at OPC, Happy Thanksgiving!
OPC wants you to know the latest developments in the DC Power Line Undergrounding initiative (DC PLUG) that’s designed to improve the resiliency of the District’s electric distribution system. Pepco and the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) recently requested that the Public Service Commission (PSC) approve their Second Biennial Underground Infrastructure Improvement Projects Plan and Financing Order Application. The Second Biennial Plan sets forth the construction projects over a two-year period, the related costs, and the surcharge Pepco will assess customers to recover its DC PLUG-related construction costs. The Financing Application outlines DDOT’s DC PLUGrelated construction costs and the rate rider Pepco will charge customers during the effective period to recover charges the District will impose upon the utility to fund DDOT’s undergrounding costs. By law, Residential Aid Discount (RAD) customers will not be assessed either the surcharge or the rate rider.
If approved without modifications, consumers with average electricity usage will experience an estimated monthly-bill increase of approximately 90-cents during the first year of the plan. However, each customer’s bill impact will be dependent upon their monthly usage.
Former Mayor Vincent C. Gray launched the undergrounding initiative back in 2012 by assembling a task force, which included OPC, to explore ways to avert power outages during storms. That task force ultimately recommended undergrounding as a solution, which led to the enactment of the law authorizing DC PLUG in 2014. After legal and other challenges, Mayor Muriel Bowser hosted the groundbreaking for the $500 million project on June 14 of this year in Ward 3. On behalf of Pepco ratepayers, OPC has monitored and weighed-in on DC PLUG from the beginning and is currently reviewing the latest plans.
Pepco and DDOT propose to place underground all or parts of 10 poor-performing feeders in Wards 3, 4, 5, 7, and 8. Two overhead power lines would be placed underground in each of the cited wards. At this time, there are no estimated construction start and end dates. However, the law requires Pepco and DDOT to file this information with the Commission within 90 days of final approval of the Second Biennial Plan.
OPC will alert consumers of the dates and locations of community hearings the PSC will hold on the plan once announced, and any other DC PLUG developments.
OPC’s annual briefing for DC Council staff took place on November 6 at the John A. Wilson Building. Deputy People's Counsel Karen Sistrunk (right), consumer services specialists and attorneys gave Council office staffers updates on key utility issues and OPC initiatives to help Councilmembers in all eight wards better serve their constituents. Among the topics on the agenda were the legal assistance OPC’s new Water Services Division is providing to DC Water customers who are facing exorbitant bills; the proposed Pepco rate increase and the utility’s request to implement a multi-year rate hike plan.
We also shared complaints trends. For example, Council staff learned that utility disconnections & high bills top the list of citywide complaints coming in to OPC. In addition, residents from Wards 8 and 7 accounted for almost half of the 1,274 complaints against utilities OPC received in fiscal year 2019.
OPC’s consumer specialists work hand-in-hand with their Council counterparts to ensure that residents in all neighborhoods and communities receive safe and reliable utility services at reasonable rates. We look forward to continuing the strong partnership with the DC Council.
Over the past year, OPC has been actively involved in protecting ratepayers and reforming PJM Interconnection’s (PJM) wholesale electricity markets in response to the default of GreenHat Energy. PJM is the regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity to the District and other states.
GreenHat was an energy trading firm that specialized in financial transmission rights (FTRs). FTRs are financial products that allow entities like Pepco to hedge--pay a fixed price for the cost of transmitting power, which can protect them from price fluctuations. In the summer of 2018, GreenHat defaulted on its positions in the PJM market. While this default did not impact the reliability of the electric system, it did cost PJM and its members over $120 million. These costs will eventually be borne by ratepayers in the form of higher costs for various energy products and higher rates as utilities and other market participants look to recover their losses.
Because the GreenHat default will needlessly raise costs for District ratepayers, OPC has been aggressively working to limit both its impact and the possibility of future defaults. At the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, OPC participated in a settlement proceeding on GreenHat’s outstanding positions that potentially reduced the cost of the default by several hundred million dollars. PJM is also undergoing significant reforms, with the installation of a new chief risk officer and stronger vetting of PJM members to ensure those with poor credit or histories of malfeasance are not permitted to participate in PJM’s markets. Beginning next year, PJM and its stakeholders will undertake a comprehensive review of the FTR market to further reduce risk and ensure these products are benefiting consumers.
OPC will continue to be active in stakeholder meetings, working to protect DC ratepayers from fraudsters and market manipulators.
The connection between energy efficiency and savings, particularly for low and moderate-income consumers who spend more than 10% of their income on utility services is now fairly well established. Reductions in energy consumption may lead to maintaining stable service at affordable levels and in reducing housing insecurity by helping some consumers meet obligations under their housing agreements or lease.
The connection that is less well known, but increasingly being studied is how energy efficiency may have a profound impact on the physical and mental health of consumers. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), of which the United States is a member, have expressed concern for the links they have found between energy consumption and health. The WHO estimates that 3 million people die prematurely each year from energy related illnesses that include respiratory and cardiovascular disease, arthritis and other conditions.
IEA’s research suggests that the stress of “chronic thermal discomfort” (too hot in summer, too cold in winter,) or “energy poverty” leads to negative mental health outcomes as well, including anxiety, stress and depression. These symptoms negatively impact the overall health of millions of Americans. IEA identifies the common causes of energy poverty as the intersection of “low income, poor housing quality and high energy costs.”
Programs available in the District such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHeap), Solar for All, Residential Aid Discount, Washington Area Fuel Fund, DC Water’s Customer Assistance Program and other targeted programs are considered essential in lessening the day-to-day pressure on consumers who must juggle energy bills.
At OPC, we want to help every District utility consumer take full advantage of the resources available. A good place to start is by having a low or no-cost energy audit. A professional audit can show you how your home’s energy efficiency, indoor air quality and carbon footprint could be improved. OPC encourages you to contact our Consumer Services and Water Services Divisions to learn about the resources available through the District government and to help you plan for a healthier life through energy efficiency.
OPC Community Outreach Specialist Denise Blackson (left), and Program Analyst Keishaa Austin (center), join People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye in addressing Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure Lucinda Babers and her staff to debut OPC's new "Energy Affordability Lab." OPC looks forward to more workshops and visits from our constituents, including students from DC Public Schools in the coming year.
What to Do During And After A Boil Water Alert
When DC Water imposed its boil water advisory earlier this month, about 6,000 upper Northwest Washington customers had been impacted. The reason? An Arlington, VA water main break allowed bacteria to enter the distribution system that covers the District, according to DC Water. A boil water advisory is a public health measure warning consumers to boil tap water before use.
A few tips from the Centers for Disease Control are below:
- Drink tap water only after you’ve boiled it:
Fill a pot with water and heat until bubbles come from the bottom of the pot to the top. After 1 minute, turn off the heat source, let the water cool, then pour the water into a clean container with a cover for storage
- If boiling water is not an option, disinfect instead:
- If your tap water is clear:
Add 1/8 teaspoon of unscented household liquid to 1 gallon (16 cups) of water. Mix well and wait 30 minutes or more before drinking. Store disinfected water in clean container with a cover
- If your tap water is cloudy:
Filter water using clean cloth. Add 1/4 teaspoon of unscented household liquid bleach to 1 gallon (16 cups) of water. Mix well and wait 30 minutes before drinking. Store disinfected water in clean container with a cover
- If your tap water is clear:
- When the Boil Water Advisory is lifted:
Turn on one hot water tap and let it run until the water is cold. This will drain the hot water heater and refill it with safe water. Turn on cold water taps, faucets, shower heads and let them run for 5 minutes. Clean faucet screens and aerators on all taps. Replace water filter cartridges on taps, and in water containers. Expect low water pressure, discolored water following the boil water advisory. This is normal and will not cause harm.
For more information, contact: DC Department of Health at (202) 442-5955 https://dchealth.dc.gov/page/how-boil-water-when-underboil-water-notice-or-advisory
Centers for Disease Control
The OPC Water Services Division serves as a voice for water consumers in the District of Columbia. The WSD advocates for DC Water customers by helping to resolve billing and services issues, educates consumers about important utility issues, and protects consumers by fighting for just and reasonable rates.
Did You Know?
- Alexandre Edmond Becquerel discovered the power of photovoltaic (PV) or how electricity can be generated from the sun in 1839
- Russell Ohl invented the solar cell in 1941 following the invention of the transistor
- California is the largest champion of solar energy in the United States and holds the #1 spot in solar installations
- A solar-powered home is able to reduce CO2 emissions by 100 tons within 30 years
- Solar is the fastest energy source when disaster strikes to assists with a recovery. Rebuilding after the hurricane in Puerto Rico is a key example
- The number of U.S. solar installations is about 23 times higher than 8 years ago
- The District of Columbia has abundant sunshine, attractive solar power and renewable energy laws that support solar installations on homes and businesses
- The District has one of the highest Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs) payments in the country
- The District provides property tax exemptions to homeowners and businesses that install solar systems
- Solar photovoltaic system ownership increases property value. Leasing a solar system does not, because there is no direct ownership by the homeowner
- The upfront cost to buy and install solar is roughly $13,668 to $21,004, but DC residents could pay much less through the Solar for All program
- It is estimated that $15,367 - $27,357 is saved in electricity costs over 20 years after the upfront costs of a solar system are paid off
- Most owners of solar systems can break even on their solar installation investment within the first 4.6 – 7.6 years
*ICYMI, OPC has a “DC Consumer’s Guide to Going Solar”
Did You Know?
Following DC Council passage of a new law, OPC’s statutory mandate to advocate for District consumers of electric, natural gas and landline telephone utility services was expanded this past spring to include DC Water customers.
With this legislative change came new and exciting changes at OPC, the launch of our new Water Services Division, and the need to bring on new staff. Marchim “Marc” Williams was one of the first employees brought on board seven months ago as part of this expansion.
In the position of Community Outreach Specialist, Marc’s responsibilities include working up-close-and-personal with water ratepayers to help resolve any service and billing concerns. A graduate of Delaware State University, Marc came to OPC with 10plus years of experience in public service, having worked in the Executive Office of the Mayor and at the DC Council. You might say he's also had some "high-level executive experience." He helped to escort former Vice President Joe Biden through the aisles of the District's first Costco during its grand opening in Ward 5.
When not deep-diving into water issues, Marc enjoys spending time with his son and an occasional round of golf. The third generation native Washingtonian has hosted his own radio show, “Capital Speech,” which covered the connection between politics and music and its effect on the community. His resume also includes acting and starring as Othello in the Shakespeare classic.
DC residents can look forward to Marc working hard to keep them “afloat” in the new OPC Water Services Division.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1115, Washington Gas Light Company’s Formal Case No. 1115, Washington Gas Light Company’s Request for Approval of a Revised Accelerated Pipeline Request for Approval of a Revised Accelerated Pipeline Replacement Plan
Formal Case No. 1142, The Merger Application of AltaGas Ltd. and WGL Holdings, Inc. Ltd. and WGL Holdings, Inc. Formal Case No. 1154, The Application of WGL for Approval of PROJECTpipes2 Plan
On October 21, OPC filed a Non-Unanimous Joint Motion for Enlargement of Time to File Settlement Conference Report.
Formal Case No. 1148, The Investigation Into The Establishment and Implementation of Energy Efficiency and Energy Conservation Programs Targeted Towards Both Affordable Multifamily Units and Master Metered Multifamily Buildings Which Include Low And Limited Income Residents In The District of Columbia
On October 24, OPC sent a Letter to the PSC Requesting Appointment to the Energy Efficiency & Energy Conservation (EEEC) Task Force.
General Docket-2019-04-M, The Implementation of the 2019 Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act Compliance Requirements
On October 25, OPC Filed a Motion for Enlargement of Time to File Comments.
Formal Case No. 1158, Application for authority to issue debt securities
On October 28, OPC filed Comments to WGL’s Application for Authorization to Issue Debt Securities.
Formal Case No. 1144, In the Matter of the Potomac Formal Case No. 1144, In the Matter of the Potomac Electric Power Company's Notice to Construct Two Electric Power Company's Notice to Construct Two 230kV Underground Circuits from the Takoma Substation 230kV Underground Circuits from the Takoma Substation to the Rebuilt Harvard Substation and from the Rebuilt to the Rebuilt Harvard Substation and from the Rebuilt Harvard Substation to the Rebuilt Champlain Substation Harvard Substation to the Rebuilt Champlain Substation (Capital Grid Project)
On November 1, OPC Filed a Motion for Additional Procedures which would include a Request for Updated Information and Additional Time for Discovery.
Formal Case No. 1156, The Application of the Potomac Electric Power Company Authority to Implement a Electric Power Company Authority to Implement a Multiyear Rate Plan for Electric Distribution Service in Multiyear Rate Plan for Electric Distribution Service in the District of Columbia
On November 1, OPC Filed Comments on the Post Technical Conference.
Formal Case No. 1017, The Development and Designation of Standard Offer Service in the District of Columbia
On November 12, OPC Filed Comments in Response to Commission Order No. 20232.
Matters Before the DC Water Board of Directors:
DC Water Rulemaking to decrease CRIAC (Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge) and to increase rates for sewer Impervious Area Charge) and to increase rates for sewer services
On October 9, 2019, OPC filed supplemental comments. OPC is reviewing a November 21, 2019 DC Water letter responding to OPC’s supplemental comments.
DC Water Rulemaking to extend the Customer Assistance DC Water Rulemaking to extend the Customer Assistance Program II (CAP2) through FY2020
OPC is reviewing a November 21, 2019 DC Water letter responding to OPC’s earlier comments filed August 19, 2019.
Case No. 19-467234, DC Water Administrative Hearing
OPC prevailed in its representation of a customer at an Administrative Hearing on August 7, 2019. In filings in October 2019 and November 2019, OPC continues to defend the victory as DC Water is requesting rehearing of the Administrative Hearing Decision.
Case No. 19-AA-0934, Petition for Review in the DC Court Case No. 19-AA-0934, Petition for Review in the DC Court of Appeals of Appeals
On October 7, 2019, on behalf of a customer, OPC has filed a Petition to Review before the DC Court of Appeals to appeal a DC Water Administrative Hearing Decision.
People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye discusses Pepco’s proposed rate increase among other issues at DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson’s quarterly meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners.
Rev. Dr. William Bennett gives OPC a thumbs up during the Wards 7 and 8 Clergy Breakfast. Contact Consumer Outreach Specialist, Rev. George Gilbert, Jr., if you would like OPC's outreach team to speak to your congregation.
Consumer Outreach Specialist Jean Gross-Bethel (right) makes Hyatt Hotel employees aware of how OPC helps consumers resolve billing and service issues. Contact her if you would like OPC to speak to your employees or provide our numerous simple and useful brochures.
We’ve got backpacks! Students at Center City Public Charter School in Shaw receive backpacks for learning about energy efficiency and ways to help their families save money on utility bills.
OPC Consumer Outreach Specialist Silvia Garrick chats with a participant at the DC government agency Weatherization Day in Ward 5.
Look for OPC staff at these and other meetings & events:
Anacostia Coordinating Council Monthly Meeting
Location:Martha’s Table, 2375 Elvans Road SE
Date:Tuesday, November 26th
Time:11:30 AM - 2:00 PM
Safeway 20th Annual Feast of Sharing Walter E. Washington Convention Center
Location:801 Mt. Vernon Place NW
Date:Wednesday, November 27th
Time:9:00 AM - 2:00 PM
Electric Power Research Institute Battery Storage Event
Location:1325 G Street NW,
Date:Tuesday, December 10th
Time:11:00 AM - 3:00 PM