A Note from Your People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye
Not Business As Usual
What role should the District’s utilities play in the transition to a clean and green energy system? Proceedings before the Public Service Commission are delving into that question. For example, one commitment of the merger of AltaGas and Washington Gas Light Company in 2018, requires AltaGas to develop “a long-term business plan on how it can evolve its business model to support and serve the District’s...climate goals.”
OPC believes AltaGas’ Climate Business Plan filed in March, unfortunately, misses the mark. In comments to the Public Service Commission, OPC argued that among its flaws, the Climate Business Plan: (1) continues to rely heavily on the sale of natural gas; and (2) over-relies on District ratepayers funding its initiatives. To best develop a viable plan, OPC suggested that the Commission open a comprehensive investigation into the transformation of the heating/home fuel sector and the impact of the District’s environmental policies on Washington Gas’ ratepayers and regulated business activities. OPC is gratified that the Commission acted on this recommendations. The new proceeding will consider to what extent utility or energy companies are meeting and helping to advance the District's energy and climate goals. OPC will participate in this proceeding to help the District stay on track to meeting its climate change goals and to make sure consumers benefit.
Meanwhile, on November 19, Pepco announced climate change commitments to support the District's climate goals.
Mayor Muriel Bowser has nominated Lorna John to fill a vacant seat on the Public Service Commission and the nominee must be confirmed by the DC Council. Following an initial virtual roundtable with Ms. John on Friday, November 20, Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie, Chairman of the Committee on Business and Economic Development, will hold a second roundtable on December 3, at 9 am. Ms. John and public witnesses testified during the first session. On Thursday, only the public will be given an opportunity to speak.
Ms. John currently is a member of the DC Board of Zoning Adjustment and has served as a Senior Attorney with the Federal Aviation Administration. Find more information about her background and details about testifying remotely or submitting written comments in the Committee’s notice here.
You can view the first roundtable on this link.
The District of Columbia has seen a steady increase in population, growing by more than 100,000 residents since the 2010 Census. This ongoing growth has in part led to the decision to introduce "771" as a new area code. The North American Numbering Plan Administrator (NANPA) projects the District will run out of new phone numbers during the third quarter of 2022. As such, on behalf to the District of Columbia Telecommunications Industry, NANPA requested the DC Public Service Commission approve an “all-services overlay” as relief for the 202 area. The PSC approved the NANPA petition and held a virtual community hearing on 771 on September 1. Don’t worry, under the plan, if you have the 202, you get to keep it. But once the change goes into effect all wireless or landline calls within the District must dial with 10 digits. OPC is participating in the Area Code Implementation Working Group that will develop and deploy an educational campaign and monitor program milestones.
We share the bittersweet news that Senior Assistant People’s Counsel Barbara Burton is retiring in December after more than 27 years of superbly serving DC utility consumers. *Stalwart = a loyal, reliable, and hard working supporter in an organization or team.
As an attorney in OPC’s Litigation Services Division, Burton's responsibilities include legal research and writing; recommending policy positions for the People’s Counsel; and representing OPC at evidentiary hearings and community meetings. She also has served as the OPC Language Access Coordinator, responsible for ensuring OPC complies with the Language Access Act of 2004. The law requires District agencies to provide consumers who have no or limited proficiency in the English language with access to services. Under her steward, the Office of Human Rights has consistently recognized OPC for exemplary performance and compliance. Ms. Barbara, as she is affectionately known, has tackled all of these tasks with passion and compassion for all DC residents no matter their background.
The Alexandria, VA native is a graduate of the University of the District of Columbia and the Columbus School of Law at Catholic University. She also studied at George Washington University to become a Certified Public Manager.
For parting words, Ms. Barbara states: "OPC always wins even when we lose because we give ratepayers a voice and a seat at the table. Because OPC is always on the case, the PSC is a more rigorous in its evaluation of utility company requests and the utilities know they must come with their ‘A’ game.”
Ms. Barbara plans to pursue a Master Gardener Certification, and is looking forward to going camping outside for the first time, continuing to take African dancing and salsa classes, and volunteering with the “Age in Place” program that makes senior citizens comfortable in their homes.
Ms. Barbara also plans to take culinary courses to improve her baking skills.
OPC staff questions those plans because, based on the delicacies she always shares at office celebrations, she already is the best baker ever!
We will miss her but celebrate Ms. Barbara living her best retirement life.
Microgrid technologies can help modernize the energy grid to be more clean, green, resilient, and reliable. OPC is working to promote the growth of microgrids in the District, while ensuring that microgrid regulations include robust consumer protections.
The grid is the network of transmission and distribution infrastructure—power lines, transformers, and other equipment that delivers electricity from energy producers to consumers. A microgrid is a group of interconnected energy resources within clearly defined boundaries that act as a single entity. When the microgrid is powered by renewable energy, like solar panels, it can contribute to reducing the District’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, making the grid cleaner for all. Because a microgrid can function separately from the grid, it also can provide critical electricity during outages, and ensure continued operations in critical facilities like hospitals. The microgrid’s ability to power its own location while putting power back into the grid can also make the grid more reliable overall. For these reasons, the Public Service Commission has been working to expand microgrids in the District. Recently, the Commission opened an investigation into how to regulate microgrids. OPC is participating in this proceeding and has submitted comments on how best to promote microgrids while protecting ratepayers.
The microgrid proceeding is a continuation of PowerPath DC, the Commission’s grid modernization project in which OPC has played a key role. The Office is committed to ensuring that consumers in all eight wards benefit from new technologies.
Sizing up Solar + Storage
OPC endeavors to keep consumers up to date on solar power technologies. Here's an explainer on battery storage. Solar panels collect sunlight during the day when the sun is shining and transform it into electricity that can only be used during the daylight hours. The solar energy cannot be stored for use after the sun goes down. However, battery storage connected to a solar photovoltaic system allows the excess solar energy generated from the system to be stored for later use, during the night when the sun goes down.
There are numerous ways to store energy, such as pumped hydroelectric that stores water for energy usage or using zinc or nickel batteries for energy storage. The lithium-ion battery is most commonly used because of its capacity to store a great amount of energy, hold a charge for long periods, can be installed almost everywhere, and are readily available. Lithium-ion batteries are critical installation parts for electric vehicle operations and a growing market demand has caused the battery prices to drop. “Solar plus storage” systems allow energy to be used from the battery in your home or business at night, during a power outage. Solar plus storage “behind the meter” means your energy system powering your home is not tied to a utility meter but physically located on your property; you are energy independent. Conversely, solar plus storage “in front of the meter” refers to a connected system, tied to the utility. Source: energy.gov.
OPC's Consumer Services Specialist George Gilbert received a call from a Ward 3 small business owner. Unfortunately, he had been forced to close his retail shop and subsequently close his Verizon business account because of the pandemic. Initially, Verizon had charged the consumer a $1,500 early termination fee he could not afford to pay. The shop owner reached out to OPC for help when he could not get the fee waived. After OPC’s intervention, however, the company agreed to waive the fee as a courtesy and ended up crediting him nearly $1,700.
Verizon stated: "Thank you for referring the complaint to our office for review. We appreciate this matter being brought to our attention...We trust that this information will assist you in closing this complaint. We apologize for any inconvenience that [the business owner] has experienced as a result of the matter."
This closed case is just one example of the wins OPC gets for business and residential utility customers. If you are having an issue with your utilities, contact OPC at (202) 727-3071 and ask to speak with a consumer outreach specialist.
OPC is Here to Help with Your Water Utility Concerns!
Are you feeling stressed about your DC Water bill? Are you worried about paying outstanding bills? Have you had trouble applying for utility discount programs?
Check out these instructions:
- You may be eligible for energy efficiency improvements in your home at no cost to you through the Weatherization Assistance Program. After you are approved for the utility assistance program, download the application, complete it, and follow the instructions to submit
- For more information, including opportunities for income-qualified and senior District residents with the repair or replacement of their broken mechanical systems, visit DOEE's website.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
OPC2020-02-G: Office of the People’s Counsel Investigation of Practices of Third-Party Suppliers
On October 16, OPC filed an Application for Reconsideration of PSC Order No. 20628. OPC asserts that the portions of Order No. 20628 that denied the Office’s March 19, 2020 Motion to Compel are factually and legally infirm and should be reversed.
On November 12, OPC filed a Motion for Leave to Reply and Reply to WGL’s Response to OPC Application for Reconsideration. OPC asserts that WGL’s Response to its October 16 Application contains material mischaracterizations that, if left uncorrected, threaten to hinder the Commission’s ability to engage in reasoned decision-making and subject the Office to undue prejudice.
Formal Case No. 1162: Washington Gas Light Company Application for Authority to Increase Existing Rates and Charges
On October 19, OPC filed a Motion to Extend the Time in which to file the Joint List of Material Issues for Hearing. On October 22, OPC filed a Joint List of Material Issues for the upcoming hearing.
On November 2, OPC filed a Motion for Leave to Reply to WGL’s Request for Leave to Reply and Response to Joint List of Material Issues for Hearing. On November 17, OPC filed a Cross-Examination Exhibits List for the hearing.
Formal Case No. 1142: Merger Application of AltaGas Ltd. and WGL Holdings, Inc.
On October 21, OPC filed Comments to WGL Response to Order No. 20371. In Comments, OPC adopts the conclusions of Barbara Alexander that WGL’s Supplemental Report did not conform to the Commission’s specific directives in Order No. 20371, which is discussed in the affidavit appended to the comments.
Formal Case No. 1154: WGL's Application for Approval of the PROJECTpipes 2 Plan
On October 23, OPC filed Initial Briefs. Upon review of WGL’s revised PROJECTpipes 2 proposal as presented in its Supplemental Direct Testimony in this proceeding, OPC asserts that WGL’s application still is not in the public interest and should not be approved unless it is shorter, more targeted and more cost-effective.
RM36-2020-02-E: Electricity Quality of Service Standards
On October 20, OPC filed an Unopposed Motion for Enlargement of Time to Submit Comments on Proposed Rulemaking.
Formal Case No. 1156: Pepco’s Application for Authority to Implement a Multiyear Rate Plan
On October 16, OPC filed a Joint Response of the Parties to OPC Order No. 20632 and then filed an amended version of that response. On behalf of the parties, OPC filed a Joint List of Material Issues of Fact In Dispute that: (a) identified with specificity material issues of disputed facts; (b) set forth the parties’ stipulations; (c) indicated the number of witnesses as well as the nature of their testimony in the Joint Witness Cross Examination Matrix; (d) provided admissions; (e) authenticated documents; and (f) addressed any other procedural matters.
On October 24, OPC filed a Cross-Examination List and then filed a revised version of that list.
On October 26, OPC filed the Opening Statement of the People’s Counsel at the Pepco rate case the evidentiary hearing.
On October 29, OPC, along with AOBA, filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the Chairman’s Bench Ruling on Pepco’s Request to Enter Documents into the Record. The filing assets that the PSC ruling harms OPC and the interveners because the decision is contrary to due process requirements, the District of Columbia’s Administrative Procedures Act law, and the PSC’s regulations and precedent.
On November 4, OPC filed a Joint Motion for Leave to Reply and Limited Reply to Pepco’s Opposition to the Joint Motion for Reconsideration. OPC requested to reply and respond to new information that was filed by the Company after the Motion for Reconsideration was submitted and to clarify inaccurate information presented by Pepco in its Opposition. OPC asserts that acceptance of the Reply will contribute to the development of the record and will not harm or prejudice any party.
On November10, OPC filed a Final Cross-Examination and Stipulated Exhibit List and Exhibits and Corrections to the Hearing Transcript after the evidentiary hearing.
On November 12, OPC filed testimony documents of Conformed Rebuttal, Conformed Second Supplemental, Conformed Supplemental, Conformed Surrebuttal, and Conformed Direct Testimony.
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."
At the Annual Meeting of the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates (NASUCA), OPC Senior Assistant People's Counsel Anjali G. Patel was the moderator of a discussion on how changing energy technologies might affect mechanisms for setting rates and the impact on consumers in the future
OPC Water Services Division Community Outreach Specialist Valca Valentine Zooms in to the ANC 2A Commission monthly meeting to update residents in the Foggy Bottom and West End Northwest neighborhoods on utility issues and OPC services.