The OPC CONNECTION - November, 2016

A Note from Your People's Counsel

Ensuring that consumers have a place at the table in utility proceedings has been a key principle of my administration. The Office of the People's Counsel could not accomplish that mandate without the help of lay advocates. So it was my great honor to give the OPC Consumer Advocate of the Year Award to Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Theresa Howe Jones at the 86th Annual Awards and Scholarships Luncheon of the DC Federation of Civic Associations, Inc. on October 29, 2016.

OPC recognized Ms. Jones for her expansive career in public service and community activism that includes untiring advocacy for the rights of People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye with DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson

DC utility consumers, particularly senior residents, before the DC Council and the DC Public Service Commission. The native Washingtonian also has served on the Boards of Head Start, the DC Statehood Commission, the Rent Control Commission, and the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation. Over 40 years, Ms. Jones has accomplished more to help her fellow District residents--much of it as a volunteer--than many could ever imagine. OPC enthusiastically applauds Theresa Howe Jones for her dedication and commitment to District consumers.

People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye and OPC staff with Theresa Howe Jones, OPC Consumer Advocate of the Year 

People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye with DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson 

The Public Service Commission has completed its hearings to review Washington Gas Light Company's (WGL) application to increas
e rates and charges for gas service in the District. As in all utility rate cases, OPC has advocated for fair, just and reasonable rates for DC consumers. Over six days in October and November, OPC presented expert witnesses and questioned WGL representatives to further the People's Counsel's claim that WGL is not entitled to the requested $19.9 million increase.  OPC argued that if any such increase be granted, it should be reduced significantly by excluding, among other things, what agency experts believe are rampant cost overruns that plague WGL's pipe replacement programs and costs that are not reasonable and/or have been deemed non-recoverable by the Commission in past rate matters.  

OPC and other parties will now file briefs in support of their respective positions with the Public Service Commission in November and December. The Commission is expected to make a final decision in early March 2017.  

Part I of this series described how electricity generated outside the District reaches DC consumers. In Part II, we describe how the price of electricity is determined.

Since March 1, 2004, Pepco has administered the purchase of electricity to meet the needs of DC ratepayers. Each year, Pepco estimates how much electricity DC consumers will need. The company then asks for bids from electricity generation suppliers. The bid price is the cost to produce electricity and the open bid process is intended to find a supplier that will offer electricity at a cheaper price for consumers. This process is also called "Standard Offer Service" or "SOS."

The Office of the People's Counsel monitors the bidding process for transparency, accuracy, fairness and legal compliance so that consumers will not be harmed. At the annual bid, the winners will supply the energy needs of the District equally spread over a 3-year term. Each year the winning supplier inputs their portion of the electricity required by contract and the cycle of bids repeats until all of the District's electricity needs are met. The bids must offer a split rate with seasonal pricing for summer months and winter months and are spread over a 3-year term to reduce the impact of price fluctuations in any given year. About 84% of ratepayers receive electricity through the SOS process. 

Following the bidding process, a Public Service Commission consultant submits a report to the Commission. In addition, Pepco files a request for approval of the new generation rate, and along with it, a transmission rate approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC),to take effect on June 1st of each year and remain effective until May 31st of the following year.

The cost to transport electricity from the location where it is generated to the Washington region is determined by FERC. The cost of electricity "transmission" represents 6% of the final customer bill. The remainder of the customer's bill reflects Pepco's distribution costs, District taxes and other fees necessary to provide service and generation rates.

 

Pepco may be incorrectly billing DC consumers based on misinformation about their rate class.  Your rate classification determines the amount you pay per kilowatt hour and, in some cases, the amount of financial assistance you can receive for your energy bills.   

To determine your rate classification, you must know how your home is heated.  If you use electricity for lighting, heating, and cooling your home, you are considered an all-electric customer, and your classification is Residential-AE.   If you use electricity solely for the purpose of lighting and cooling, your classification is Residential-R.  It is important to note that just because you have a gas stove or a gas hot water heater, does not mean your home is heated by gas.  So, know your heating source.  

Once you determine your heating source, then you must confirm that Pepco has you properly classified.   Look on page 3 of your Pepco bill for the line that reads Total Electric Charges.  If it reads Total Electric Charges - Residential-R, you do not heat by electricity.  If it reads Total Electric Charges - Residential-AE, then you are an all-electric customer.   If you find a discrepancy with your classification, call the Office of the People's Counsel for assistance. 

On October 5, 2016, OPC hosted a webinar for various District energy stakeholders on the methodology being used in the Office's Value of Solar study.  During the webinar, one of OPC's consultants, Synapse Energy Economics, provided a thorough overview of the scope of their research and analysis which includes a portrait of current policies and compensation structures for solar generation in the District; a review of the technical and economic capacity of solar; and a cost-benefit analysis regarding the value of solar to the electric company, consumers and society as a whole.  About 30 stakeholders participated in the webinar. Following the webinar, OPC provided stakeholders an opportunity to provide comments on OPC's approach and methodology for the Value of Solar study.  Upon completion of the study, OPC will invite consumers and stakeholders to a presentation to hear about the findings of the project and how the study will help facilitate the District's clean energy goals.    

OPC is Barbara Burton.

The OPC Connection is continuing a series of profiles of OPC employees who work daily to serve District utility consumers. 

In this edition, we introduce Assistant People's Counsel Barbara Burton.   Barbara is one of OPC's longest serving employees, joining the office in August of 1994.  She remembers attending the intensive two-week-long National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Conference in Michigan during her first month. (It's a wonder she decided to stay after such an intensive introduction!)  Barbara currently works on natural gas issues, is OPC's language access and EEOC compliance officer, and is becoming more involved in telecom matters.

Barbara was born in Alexandria, Virginia and grew up there when the state was segregated.  She now lives in the Brookland home she purchased in 1999. Attorney Burton is a graduate of the University of the District of Columbia and the Catholic University School of Law.  While she studied history at night, Barbara recalls excelling in French class so much so that she was excused from taking the final exam.  Tres Bien (very good)!  

Around the office, Barbara may be known as "OPC's Betty Crocker," but her co-workers may be shocked to learn that she originally avoided all domestic activities and dreaded home-economics class as a youth.  All that changed, however, when she made her first pound cake as an adult.  Now, her favorite part of baking is seeing others enjoy her creations (this writer made sure to place his order for peanut butter brownies during our interview).  Barbara is also very passionate about African dance, which she calls "life celebrated through movement."   She has been performing with Coyaba Dance Theater for 14 years. 

Barbara passionately believes in OPC's mission to serve District utility consumers, which she calls "enduring, regardless of leadership changes."



OPC employees are enthusiastic participants in the DC One Fund Drive. The District government kicked off the employee giving campaign in October and it runs through December 20, 2016.Last year OPC did an amazing job and exceeded the donation pledge goal the Office of the Secretary set for the agency. 

Overall, DC government employees donated more than $1 million to support worthy charities that provide services to DC residents. OPC employees are determined to meet this year's goal and perhaps do better than last year. Count us in to help the District reach its goal of $ 1 million again! Learn more at: http://os.dc.gov/onefund

OPC held its second Senior Focus Group session on October 26, 2016.  Seniors, representing a variety of community organizations, and representatives from AARP and the DC Office on Aging, met to review the Low-and-Limited Income Senior Focus Group Report. The report, prepared following the initial Senior Focus Group session in February, included recommendations for improving the quality and delivery of utility services, increasing the use of affordable energy efficient products, and engaging senior consumers in the utility rate-making process. The latest session featured an overview of the report findings; an update on OPC's comprehensive seniors' utility education program; and the Office's new Metro bus and rail and door-to-door education campaigns. The campaigns are designed to shore up outreach to utility consumers throughout the District.

OPC's Senior Focus Group will meet regularly, with attendees serving as "utility ambassadors" for their community organizations.  Staff will provide attendees with updates on industry and local market trends, rate cases and utility projects so that they can pass the information along to their peers.