The OPC Connection - February 2017

A Note from Your People's Counsel

"Oh no, not again!" That was the headline on an article in the Washington Business Journal after WGL Holdings, the parent company of Washington Gas, announced on January 25, 2017, a plan to merge with AltaGas. OPC's approach to the anticipated announcement, however, was not to be aghast. Instead, we moved expeditiously to shore up the tools necessary to assess what might be in store for Washington Gas ratepayers.

An article in Forbes Magazine entitled, Mega-Trends In The Utilities Industry, stated: "New industry ventures and mergers & acquisitions are happening at a rapid pace...In search for shareholder value through scale and increased synergies, this is a path that utilities will continue to explore."

No matter what the present and future trends, OPC's mandate to be the voice for consumers will not change. As was the case with the Pepco-Exelon merger, OPC will aggressively advocate for the best outcome for WGL consumers. More on WGL and Pepco-Exelon is below.

OPC is covering industry trends and many other topics in briefings we are hosting in February for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners in all eight wards. OPC has longstanding partnerships with ANCs and we hope the briefings will foster even greater collaboration.

OPC's annual DC Council performance oversight hearing is another opportunity to learn how the agency has been meeting consumer needs. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, February 22nd, 10 am, in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building, before the Committee on Business and Economic Development.

On January 25, 2017, WGL Holdings, the parent company of Washington Gas, and Canadian-based AltaGas announced they have entered into an agreement to merge their companies through a $6.4 billion all-cash transaction. If approved, WGL and its subsidiaries would become part of AltaGas. The merger must be approved by several federal and state regulatory agencies, including the DC Public Service Commission, and Maryland and Virginia regulators. AltaGas and WGL are expected to file an application with the PSC in late March/early April.

OPC will closely scrutinize the application and will focus on whether the proposed merger will provide District ratepayers tangible benefits, not harm District consumers, and otherwise be in the public interest. OPC is currently assembling its team of technical experts and staff to work on this matter. As the Commission establishes a schedule for hearings, OPC will keep ratepayers abreast at every step and strongly encourage them to be involved in the proceedings.

...so what do you do if a high water bill is hanging around your neck like an albatross? While the Office of the People's Counsel does not have jurisdiction regarding DC Water, we want to make sure you are aware of a few options for assistance.

  • DC Water offers a budget billing option that uses a consumer's historical usage data to create a monthly amount which helps spread the cost of a consumer's bill over the course of a year.
  • Consumers also have the option of requesting extended payment arrangements.
  • Some low-income consumers may be eligible to receive up to $350 per household to help with bills once per year through DC Water's SPLASH! program. SPLASH stands for Serving People by Lending A Supporting Hand. The SPLASH! program is administered by the Greater Washington Urban League, which can be reached by calling 202-265-8200.
  • Eligible low-income consumers may receive assistance through the DC Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) Customer Assistance Program (CAP). To learn more about CAP, contact DOEE at 202-673-6700.

DC Water's main phone number is 202-787-2000, or you can find more information by clicking here.

Any electric or natural gas consumer can request a test of their meter once per year at no charge. The Office of the People's Counsel or the utility company serving that customer also can request a test of the accuracy of the customer's meter. The test is often requested when customer billing appears out of align with estimated energy consumption.

The meter test may be performed at: (a) the metering location such as the customer's residence, or (b) the utility's meter shop. Moreover, the customer, or his representative (OPC), the utility company and the DC Public Service Commission compliance & enforcement officer may be present when the meter is tested.

The referee meter test simulates active and reactive loads that the customer's meter will experience and measures the accuracy of those active and reactive outputs.

This test is very useful in determining the accuracy and integrity of the electric smart meter or natural gas meter serving the customer. However, it can be done only once during a 12-month period.

OPC continues to monitor consumer complaints that Third Party Suppliers (TPSs) are switching customer accounts without their permission (commonly known as "slamming"), and engaging in overly aggressive and deceptive marketing practices.

In 2013, Starion Energy was the subject of numerous consumer complaints. A PSC investigation initiated by OPC resulted in the review and revision of Starion's business practices and financial energy assistance for consumers.

Now, Starion Energy is set to reenter the DC market. In accordance with a settlement agreement, OPC and the PSC will monitor Starion's business practices closely, including reviewing the company's sales and marketing materials, as well as tracking consumer complaints. If there are more than 100 complaints over a six-month period, Starion may be brought before the Commission. OPC encourages consumers who have concerns about Starion Energy and other Third Party Suppliers to call OPC.

Some consumers are unaware that they may be paying too much for their electricity service through Pepco. The default standard rate class for all homes in the District of Columbia is "Residential-R." However, if the primary source of heat in your home is provided by an electric heater, then you should be included in the rate class known as "All Electric-AE." Currently, Pepco's rate for Residential-R consumers is $.0817 per kilowatt hour, while the rate for All Electric-AE consumers is currently $.0768. While this may seem like a small difference, over the course of a month's usage the savings can really add up.

To determine your rate class, look at the second page of your Pepco bill under the "Details of Your Electric Charges" portion. Your rate class should be clearly listed.

For more information, you may contact Pepco at 202-833-7500, or call the Office of the People's Counsel for further guidance on how to read your bill.

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

Formal Case No. 1119

Comments were filed on the Arrearage Management Plan proposal that was included in the Pepco-Exelon merger to establish a payment program for Pepco customers facing disconnection due to large outstanding balances. In addition, a Brief was filed with the DC Court of Appeals to ask the Court to send the Pepco-Exelon Merger Case back to the PSC for consideration of restoration of consumer benefits the Commission removed such as the $25.6 million rate credit.

Formal Case No. 1139

Continued pre-hearing litigation activities in Pepco's Application for Authority to Increase Existing Retail Rates and Charges for Electric Distribution Service.

Formal Case No. 1140

Comments were filed in the Matter of the Investigation into the Establishment of a Purchase of Receivables Program for Natural Gas Suppliers and Their Customers in the District of Columbia, opposing the program and advocating for no cost to consumers if adopted.

OPC became an independent agency of the District of Columbia government on January 2, 1975. Over the years, the Office has accumulated a large and diverse collection of historic posters, artwork, and memorabilia. Now, OPC would like to give our readers the opportunity to admire the collection as much as OPC staff has for years.

This month: SCRAPBOOKING!!!, Circa 1992

What we love about it: What's NOT to love about it? The slanted postings? The construction paper background? This is what we spent hours perfecting in middle school using cutouts from teen-bop magazine images of boy bands (BSB forever!)

Peach AND sky blue pasted over a white magazine article? YES, PLEASE.
Note the classic example of using an unrelated image to really highlight the "Call" portion of the text. Why so blue, lemon? Also, good job on growing appendages, facial features, and becoming an educated telephone consumer.

 

What we should be embarrassed by, but aren't: Unlike most true examples of the art of the scrapbook, there are no handwritten captions or illustrations of hearts and balloons. Fortunately, a newly formed action committee is currently working to correct this oversight!