The OPC Connection - April 2019

 

A Note from ​​Your People's Counsel

Sandra Mattavous-Frye

Sailing Forward with Water

On April 11, 2019, the DC Water Consumer Protection Amendment Act became law, giving OPC the green light to advocate on behalf of DC Water consumers. It's what we have done effectively for Pepco, Washington Gas and local Verizon customers for decades. We are excited to now add DC Water under OPC's umbrella. Here's our new water informational page.

DC Water consumers have called on OPC for years for help with high water and sewer bills, service problems and disconnections. Until now, we could only refer them to DC Water staff. The new law allows OPC to independently represent water consumers. It's a time when there has been much debate and anguish over the Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge (CRIAC). OPC has no authority to adjust water charges and rates. However, the Office will educate consumers about their legal rights and will represent individual consumers at complaint hearings, and at public hearings where DC Water sets its rates.

Following DC Council passage of the authorizing legislation on December 18, 2018, the Office set in motion the hiring of new staff to specifically handle water matters. We are eager to move forward with this new crop of professionals. OPC already has in place a comprehensive consumer complaint resolution process for all other utilities that we will adapt and use to ensure that DC Water customers are adequately represented in their disputes with the water company. I discuss OPC's expanded mission further in The Washington Informer's Sustainability Supplement in Observance of Earth Day. Thanks for checking it out here.

OPC staff and attendees at the Utility Town Hall in Ward 8.

OPC is hosting a series of “Utility Town Halls” across the District to speak with residents face-to-face about their utility needs and to highlight how OPC fights for consumers. The meetings are a component of OPC’s comprehensive consumer education and outreach program. Getting feedback on the quality of consumers’ experiences with local utilities is key to effectively addressing service needs and setting policies.

The first town hall was held on March 26, at Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School in Ward 8. Lamont Mitchell, Chairman of the Anacostia Coordinating Council, which partnered with OPC on this town hall, welcomed attendees. He also underscored the need for communities east of the Anacostia River to have information about the District’s changing utility markets. People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye and staff then covered topics such as billing scams, third party energy suppliers (TPS). Washington Gas and Pepco construction projects, billing assistance to avert disconnections, and OPC’s new role as the advocate for DC Water customers.

A lively question and answer session followed the presentations. Participants wanted to know how to stop scammers. Others asked how TPS companies are certified to sell energy products in the District and if they reduce costs. Guests also inquired about OPC’s complaints resolution process, and the benefits of solar power.

Staff made similar presentations and attendees asked similar questions at the April 18 Utility Town Hall at Mount Airy Baptist Church in Ward 6. At both meetings, OPC provided sign language interpreters who provided a valuable service to hearing impaired consumers in attendance or watching live on OPC’s Facebook page.

The questions presented a snap shot of consumer perspective on utility services and will help OPC better represent them. We will keep you informed about future town halls via social media and at opc-dc.gov, where you also can see recordings of the meetings. See photos from both town halls below.

Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Troy Donté Prestwood inquires about how OPC helps consumers facing disconnection.

OPC's CharQuia Barringtine staffs the sign-in desk at the town hall at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Ward 8.

Litigation Services Director Laurence Daniels discusses how OPC will represent DC Water customers, along side a sign language interpreter at the OPC's CharQuia Barringtine staffs the sign-in desk at the town hall at Thurgood Marshall Academy in Ward 8. People's Counsel Sandra MattavousFrye greets an attendee in Ward 8. town hall at Mount Airy Church in Ward 6.

People's Counsel Sandra MattavousFrye greets an attendee in Ward 8.

Jean Gross-Bethel and Linda Jefferson of Consumer Services speak with an attendee in Ward 6.

Laurence Jones of Consumer Services and Deputy People's Counsel Karen Sistrunk welcome a DC resident at the utility town hall in Ward 6.

OPC encourages consumers to participate in a follow-up community hearing the Public Service Commission is holding on Wednesday, May 15, at 2:00 pm on natural gas safety.

The hearing will give Washington Gas Light (WGL) a forum to update the public on its recent actions and future plans to address community concerns raised during the Commission’s February 6 community hearing on natural gas leaks.

At the first hearing, People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye outlined the complaints about gas leaks in Georgetown consumers had brought to OPC's attention. While the primary focus of the initial hearing was about leaks, it provided the Commission an opportunity to air general concerns about WGL’s operations and customer service.

The hearing will be held at the Commission's offices at 1325 G Street NW. If you wish to testify, contact the Commission Secretary by 5:30 pm on May 10 at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or (202) 626-5150

The Solar Connection is a feature designed to "shine the light" on developments in solar power and educate consumers about the energy option.

The District is working tirelessly to fulfill its goal to reduce 100,000 energy bills in low-income households by 50 percent by 2032 and make solar available to all residents. It’s arguably an ambitious feat. However, the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) Solar for All Program endeavors to accomplish this goal. Solar for All was established in the Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Action of 2016 and funded by the Renewable Energy Development Fund. DOEE is expected to implement the program in several phases to ensure adaptability to market changes and overcome barriers.

In early 2017, DOEE issued requests for applications for $13 million in Solar for All Innovation and Expansion Grants to develop innovative and effective ways to expand solar energy in the District and provide benefits to low- and moderateincome residents. The grantees were tasked to fully leverage public funding and demonstrate viable solutions to solar deployment challenges. Nine grant proposals were selected, representing both non-profit and for-profit entities. Their projects focused on expanding opportunities for the solar industry to serve households previously unable to benefit directly from solar energy. More than 3,000 households will benefit from this program by the end of calendar year 2019.

All of the projects are underway. One of the awardees, Open Market ESCO - the energy services division of WinnCompanies, has already completed the District’s largest community solar project aimed at reducing energy bills for low income residents. Open Market ESCO is an award-winning multifamily property development and management company. With its $1.3 million grant, Open Market ESCO installed a community renewable energy facility on the roof of a 195-unit affordable multifamily property in Ward 8. This project will benefit almost 200 income-eligible households over the next 15 years, helping to create jobs and improve air quality. The project showcases the success of the Solar for All Program for District residents. If you are interested in going solar, contact the DOEE Solar for All hotline to see if you qualify at (202) 299-5271.

This article was contributed by the Department of Energy and Environment Solar for All Team.

April’s Employee Spotlight is on Chris Sellers. Chris came on board in October 2012, and since then, there’s been no looking back. Fellow staff members say they are grateful that Chris often steps up to pitchin, when they need help with an out-of-the box task. He may be the OPC team member who has worn the most hats during his tour of duty with the Office. Starting out as an administrative assistant in the Consumer Services Division, helping to prepare outreach materials, among other duties...Chris subsequently moved down the hall to the Directorate Division to work under the Deputy People’s Counsel. Later, Chris assumed his current position as the agency’s Contract Specialist under the Regulatory Finance Director. Chris’ responsibilities now include drafting and executing contracts between the agency and legal and technical consultants that OPC uses to support utility proceedings before the Public Service Commission.

When he is not “tracking the money,” Chris is keeping track of his beloved Virginia Tech Hokies. The Blacksburg, VA native also enjoys going to sporting events and concerts, working out and watching movies. When asked what makes his time at OPC special, Chris replies, “It would have to be the people I work with, as well as the mission of the Office that makes this a fulfilling experience. You spend so much time with your coworkers that you can’t help but think of them as your ‘work family.’ That, along with knowing that the agency is working hard every day to fight for District ratepayers, let’s me know that I am definitely in the right place.” Whether Chris found OPC or OPC found Chris, we are glad he walks these halls, no matter what hat he happens to be wearing on any given day.

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

FERC2019-01-E

On March 12, 2019, Washington Gas Light (WGL) filed a motion for a one-month extension to file its Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Form 2 with the DC Public Service Commission. The FERC Form 2 is designed to collect financial and operational information from natural gas companies under the federal agency’s jurisdiction. On March 15, OPC filed a response stating that OPC had no objection to WGL’s motion.

Formal Case No. 1154: The Application of WGL for Approval of PROJECTpipes2 Plan

PROJECTpipes is WGL’s accelerated plan to improve its aging natural gas infrastructure. On March 22, OPC filed Initial Comments on WGL’s PROJECTpipes2 Application, wherein OPC requested the Commission deny WGL’s application as filed, for not being in the public interest. On April 8, OPC filed Reply Comments to the application, to address its deficiencies as identified and discussed by other parties in their Initial Comments.

Formal Case No. 1153: The Petition of Pepco for an Investigation to Determine the Jurisdiction of the PSC to Regulate the Distribution of Electricity of Retail Customers of The Parks at Walter Reed

The former Walter Reed Army Medical Center is being converted into a mixeduse development, and various parties are litigating the degree to which the Public Service Commission will have jurisdiction over the development’s electrical facilities. On April 1, OPC filed an Opposition to the Joint Parties Motion to Stay the Procedural Schedule to Allow Additional Time for Settlement Discussions. OPC requested the Commission deny the parties’ request, or alternatively, limit the extension of time to 14 days and to also permit OPC to participate in the remaining settlement discussions.

Formal Case No. 1137: The Application of Washington Gas Light Company for Authority to Increase Existing Rates and Gas Service

The Multi-Family Piping Program (MPP) is a pilot program designed to incentivize builders and developers to install gas piping in multi-family buildings. WGL filed a motion to extend the project’s timeframe, and on April 8, OPC filed a Response to Washington Gas Light Company’s Motion to Extend the MPP. In its Motion, OPC requested that the Commission direct WGL to file a rate case by a date certain shortly after the pilot ends, to obtain the data needed to determine its effectiveness and the degree to which it increased the billing determinants on WGL's system.

OPC will be out at the following events:

Information & Education Table Northwest One Library
Location:155 L Street NW
Date: Tuesday, April 30th
Time:11:30 am - 2:00 pm

Uptown Farmer’s Market
Location:14th & Kennedy Streets NW
Date: Saturday, May 4th
Time:10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Mayor Bowser’s Citywide Resource and Empowerment Expo: "Find Your Future" Entertainment and Sports Arena
Location:1100 Oak Drive SE
Date: Wednesday, May 8th
Time:8:30 am - 4:30 pm

2019 Health Resource Fair Nineteenth Street Baptist Church
Location:1606 16th Street NW
Date: Friday, May 17th
Time:10:00 am - 1:30 pm

2nd Annual Resource Fair for Staff and Clients of St. Elizabeths Hospital
Location:1100 Alabama Avenue SE
Date: Monday, May 20th
Time:11:00 am - 2:00 pm