A Note from Your People's Counsel
OPC Still Working for Federal Workers
Like most people in the Washington area, OPC is relieved that the federal government shutdown is over. From the beginning, OPC was ready and able to assist furloughed employees and contractors who live in the District. Staff fielded numerous inquiries, negotiated payment plans with utilities for consumers and made referrals for financial aid. For example, OPC connected a Department of Agriculture employee with city and nonprofit agencies to help him get funds to pay his water and electric bills. A DC Superior Court employee missed his first Pepco payment so we referred him to Catholic charities for assistance. OPC also advised a contractor with the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration, worried that she won’t receive back pay to cover her utilities.
Earlier, I sent letters to the heads of Pepco, Washington Gas, Verizon DC, and DC Water requesting that they give special consideration to those affected and provide extended payment plans. Moreover, OPC called for a moratorium on disconnections until employees were paid, in other words “no shutoffs during shutdown.” I appreciate that the utilities responded that they were making accommodations.
Here's an update on the DC Water Consumer Protection Amendment Act of 2018. You might recall that the DC Council passed the bill on December 18th and forwarded it to Mayor Muriel Bowser for consideration on January 23rd. She has until February 6th to approve or veto the legislation. If it moves forward, as expected, the legislation will be subject to a routine 30-day congressional review (when the body is in session). After that final step, OPC will be able to help DC Water ratepayers resolve complaints, as we do with thousands of electric, natural gas and local phone company customers. To get ready for the new responsibilities, we will be bringing on new staff and spreading the news that OPC can help.
OPC calls your attention to a community hearing the Public Service Commission is holding on February 6, 2019 to discuss consumers’ concerns about natural gas leaks. Washington Gas Light (WGL) customers have complained to OPC about gas leaks in Georgetown. Gas leaks are a priority for OPC. As a result of OPC’s advocacy, both Washington Gas and the Commission began investigating Georgetown residents’ complaints late last year. In the settlement that resulted in the merger of WGL and AltaGas, OPC won commitments from the companies to substantially reduce gas leaks and will ensure the promise is kept. Here are the details of the community hearing where you can let your voice be heard:
PSC Community Hearing on Safety & Gas Leaks
Wednesday, February 6, 2019
Public Service Commission
1325 G Street NW, Suite 800
Deadline: February 1st
*Call OPC if you need technical assistance preparing testimony.
In order for the District’s utilities to provide safe, affordable, and reliable service to District consumers, they must be financially healthy, including Washington Gas Light (WGL). During the WGL-AltaGas merger proceeding, it became clear that AltaGas’s financial health was not as strong as WGL’s. OPC expressed concerns about possible negative impact on WGL customers. Accordingly, the settlement that gave the merger the green light included several terms protecting WGL from AltaGas’s financial status and requiring the merged companies to report to OPC, the Public Service Commission and stakeholders if WGL experienced any financial changes due to the merger.
It has been less than seven months since the merger became a reality, but in that time WGL’s credit rating has been downgraded twice by several prominent credit rating agencies. On December 21, 2018, the day after the companies filed their notice of the second downgrade, OPC filed a motion with the PSC requesting that the Commission “take immediate and proactive action to get ahead of the problem,” by convening a status conference, “during which the company representatives would, at minimum, be asked to explain the current financial state of WGL and AltaGas and to share their plans to ensure there is no further deterioration in WGL’s financial integrity and that WGL’s credit rating remains at investment grade consistent with its pre-merger operations.”
The PSC has not yet acted on OPC’s motion which can be viewed on the PSC’s website here.
On January 22, 2019, People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye joined Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd at a community meeting he called to address residents’ concerns about recent Pepco outages in the Crestwood, Lamond-Riggs and Petworth neighborhoods.
The People’s Counsel reported on OPC’s inspection of Pepco Monthly “NonMajor Outage Reports” that have been filed with the Public Service Commission. From these reports, OPC concluded that the Crestwood area has experienced 14 outages, affecting approximately 9,361 customers between June and December 2018—most frequently happening in December and primarily due to what Pepco describes as “equipment failure.”
OPC also concluded that in all of Ward 4, there have been 34 of what Pepco refers to as “Non-Major Outages,” affecting 28,653 customers in 2018. Those were primarily due to equipment failure and overhead line contact with trees. This compares to 9,000 customers city-wide suffering outages in 2018, blamed on one feeder different from the one coming into Crestwood community. Pepco representatives informed attendees that tree maintenance occurs every two years to help prevent outages.
During the meeting, Crestwood residents questioned Pepco about declining reliability. Pepco officials responded that these equipment failure outages on the mainlines and feeders servicing Crestwood have been permanently repaired and that other main feeders in surrounding areas are slated to be replaced through the DC PLUG power-line replacement program in the next few years. The utility noted that the outages were not due to limited load capacity or high demand
People’s Counsel Mattavous-Frye stressed the need for the community to learn about MEDSIS/Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability. MEDSIS is an initiative before the Public Service Commission established to identify technologies and policies to make the system more reliable, efficient, cost effective. OPC will continue to monitor outages in Ward 4, and continue to advocate for increased reliability for consumers in all eight wards.
The Public Service Commission has opened a formal proceeding on its jurisdiction over the electric infrastructure and proposed microgrid at The Parks at Walter Reed housing and mixed-use development on the Ward 4 campus of the former Walter Reed Army Medical Center. Although District law gives OPC the right to be a party to the matter as the utility consumer advocate, Pepco is contending that OPC should not be allowed to participate in the negotiations of what they deem “a private commercial transaction.”
OPC challenges Pepco’s attempt to unilaterally exclude the Office from any settlement negotiations that take place within this PSC proceeding. OPC has requested that the Commission direct the “parties,” which are Pepco, WGL Energy Services and The Parks developer, (1) to include OPC in all future settlement discussions and (2) to fully brief OPC on any talks that have taken place to date, including the disclosure of all documents, data, and information exchanged between the parties prior to the Office's inclusion in settlement discussions.
It is with heartfelt sadness that the Office of the People’s Counsel respectfully recognizes the recent passing of Audrey Epperson, a longtime employee of the Greater Washington Urban League (GWUL), an OPC community partner. As GWUL's Director of Education, Employment and Training and Special Services, Epperson worked closely with OPC on various projects in support of District of Columbia utility consumers. Most notably, she was the Office’s liaison in the Starion Settlement Agreement, which OPC negotiated in the Spring of 2014. As a result of the agreement, a utility assistance fuel fund was established at GWUL to support low-income families struggling to pay their utility bills. Epperson worked diligently and in tandem with OPC to ensure that funds were administered and allocated accordingly to DC consumers in need. See the 2014 photo of People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye,GWUL President George Lambert Jr., and Ms. Epperson.
The People’s Counsel and staff send sincere condolences to Audrey Epperson’s family, friends and colleagues at the Greater Washington Urban League. Her passing is a loss for all District residents who came to rely on her charitable heart and call to public service.
The Office of the People's Counsel warns consumers about persistent utility scams now targeting Pepco customers. Consumers tell us about telephone and in-person versions of the same scam. A consumer is told that there have been problems with payments on their account, and unless a payment is made immediately their power will be cut off within hours.
This scam may involve a sophisticated technique called “spoofing.” Spoofing is when scammers hide the true origin of their phone call by falsely imitating a legitimate phone number. For example, consumers have received a call from a phone number that appeared on their caller ID as a Pepco customer service number.
In another example, persons dressed as utility workers have showed up with fake company identification badges. The scammer then threatens the consumer with disconnection unless a payment is made with a pre-paid credit card.
OPC Reminds Consumers:
- Unless there is a public safety emergency, utility companies rarely visit your home or stop you on the street and ask for account information.
- If a scammer comes to your door and makes a threat, contact the Metropolitan Police Department.
- If you get a suspicious call, hang up immediately and call the customer service number printed on your utility bill to report it.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of a scam or have questions about these practices, contact OPC at (202) 727-3071 to speak with a consumer outreach specialist.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1142: The Merger Application of AltaGas Ltd. and WGL Holdings, Inc.
On January 8, 2019, OPC and the DC government filed a Joint Motion requesting the Commission reject Washington Gas’s expedited request to approve a consultant under Merger Commitment No. 54; and filed a Joint Response to a January 2, 2019 AltaGas letter regarding Merger Condition No. 5. OPC and the DC government urge the Commission to reject the latter filing as deficient.
Rulemaking 27-2016-02: Commission's Investigation into the Rules Governing Local Exchange Carrier Quality of Service Standards
On January 15, OPC filed Reply Comments on the Notice of Second Proposed Rulemaking. OPC asked the Commission to reject the recommendations proposed in Verizon’s Initial Comments, and instead, accept recommendations in OPC’s Initial Comments.
Formal Case No. 1130: The Investigation into Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability (MEDSIS)
On January 15, OPC filed Reply Comments to request the Commission accept its recommendations and reject the Pepco Transportation Electrification (electric vehicle) Program as unjust, unreasonable and not in the public interest.
Rulemaking 3-2014-01: The Public Service Commission’s Intent to Adopt Chapter 3, "Consumer Rights and Responsibilities," of Title 15 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (DCMR)
On January 18, OPC filed a Petition to Amend the Final Rules Adopted in Order No. 19759 which adopted amendments to that title. OPC proposes that the Commission resolve an ambiguity in the rules governing the rescission period for telephone solicitations and reinsert prior language governing temperature restrictions for utility disconnections.
Formal Case No. 1119: The Merger of Exelon Corporation and Pepco Holdings, Inc.
On January 22, 2019, OPC sent a letter to the PSC requesting that in the future, the public be given more notice of a scheduled public meeting. OPC’s Request for Adequate Public Notice for Future "State of Pepco Briefings” asks the Commission to establish a minimum of five calendar days’ notice for the State of Pepco presentations, which are required under Merger Commitment No. 51.
OPC has signed the NEUAC "2020 All Parties Letter," urging Congress to protect Fiscal Year 2020 funding for LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The Coalition has called on agencies, energy providers and charitable to join the drive to save LIHEAP funding which enables the District and states to serve America’s most vulnerable households who need help to keep their utilities on.
People’s Counsel Sandra MattavousFrye speaks with Christine McEntee, Executive Director/CEO of the American Geophysical Union, where the People's Counsel attended Mayor Muriel Bowser's bill signing for the CleanEnergy DC Act. AGU received praise for renovating its headquarters as the first-ever net zero or total clean energy commercial building in the District.
People’s Counsel Mattavous-Frye, Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh, CEO of New Columbia Solar Mike Healy & Cheh Legislative Director Nicole Rentz at the bill signing.
At Michigan Park Christian Church in Ward 5, OPC's Jean Gross-Bethel speaks on "Keeping it Simple & Practical," the name of an energy efficiency workshop OPC presents in the community.
OPC's Denise Blackson is with Zelia Diggs, a Northeast resident who received an OPC Energy Bucket that has devices and tips for saving energy. In three months, she will let Denise know if the tips helped her save money on utility bills.
OPC's Stephen Marencic has got the goods! Useful and easy to read educational materials are available for organizations, schools and businesses to distribute. Give OPC a call @ (202) 727-3071 and we'll make sure you get what you need or you can go to publications @ http://www.opc-dc.gov/news-events to download a variety of guides.
OPC will be out at the following events:
Energy Efficiency Workshop Mt. Airy Baptist church
Location: 1100 North Capitol Street NW
Date: Tuesday, February 5th
Time: 11:00 am
Project Empowerment Training and DC Career Connections Work Readiness Program Department of Employment Services (DOES)
Location: 4058 Minnesota Avenue NE
Date: Thursday, February 14th
Time: 9:30 am - 10:30 am
Shopper Information Table Safeway
Location: 6500 Piney Branch Road NW
Date: Friday, February 22nd
Time: 10:00 am – 3:00 pm