Hot Button Issue: Electrification

In order for the District to meet its goal of reducing carbon emissions 100% by 2050, the District will have to drastically reduce its fossil fuel use. One potential way to do that is called “electrification.” In short, electrification is switching a fossil fuel use such as a stove, boiler, car or bus to one that runs on electricity. As the District’s electricity increasingly comes from “green” sources like solar panels and other renewable resources, the electricity used by those electric appliances and vehicles become closer to fossil-fuel free. OPC is working to ensure that District consumers’ needs are served in the development and execution of electrification plans. For example, in the DC Public Service Commission (“PSC”) proceeding regarding Pepco’s proposed transportation electrification program (FC1130) OPC is working to ensure this program equitably benefits ratepayers in all eight wards. OPC is also participating in DOEE’s transportation electrification roadmap to ensure the voice of consumers is included.

You can learn more about the District’s draft electrification plans here and look out for additional ways to weigh in on them here.

Water Affordability Study

D.C. Makes Water Affordability Possible for District Residents

In June 2022, staff of The Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC) attended the 2022 National Energy & Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC) conference in New Orleans, LA. OPC contracted the technical consulting firm, APPRISE, to conduct a Water Affordability Study for the District of Columbia (“District”) prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic. These findings were discussed during the 2022 NEUAC conference.

The findings from the study found many shortcomings in the access to financial assistance for many Districts residents prior to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The District is comprised primarily of multifamily properties, which made access to financial assistance for water bills virtually unattainable for many households that would otherwise be eligible for assistance. The APPRISE Water Affordability study also found that many eligible District residents simply were not enrolled in the Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) Customer Assistance Program (CAP) that could assist with the monthly financial burden of their water bills. The Study notes:

  1. Of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligible residents, 78% were not enrolled in CAP.
  2. Of the non-SNAP eligible residents, 89% were not enrolled in CAP
  3. Of the eligible moderate-income residents, 99% were not enrolled in CAP.

The study did not identify “Why” there was low enrollment in the CAP program.

The great news is that the District has made major improvements in the availability of financial assistance to the largest group of District residents. The DC Water Multifamily Assistance Program (MAP) provides financial assistance up to $2,000 for residents in multifamily properties. Prior to the implementation of this program, multifamily property residents had virtually no options for financial assistance towards their water bills. In addition to the MAP program, the Residential Assistance Program (Emergency Residential Relief) assists consumers of single-family households with up to $2,000 to help income-eligible customers eliminate their past due balance. Additionally, consumers approved for emergency residential relief would be enrolled in the previously discussed Customer Assistance Program (CAP) which provides monthly discounts for residential consumers. Eligible households receive discounts on water and sewer services and/or discounts on some fees (CAP 1, CAP 2, CAP 3). Discounts range from $166 to $962 annually.

The findings from the Water Affordability Study demonstrated that while there are some challenges to water affordability, the District is ahead of many other cities regarding access to financial assistance for water bills. Since the Water Affordability Study was concluded, a major achievement in the access to water affordability programs for many District residents has been the implementation of the MAP program that aids thousands of District residents that were once ineligible for any assistance for their water bills. OPC is examining how meaningful and effective the MAP program is for consumers living in multi-unit buildings.

For more information on the programs mentioned, please contact The Office of the Peoples Counsel via telephone or email at (202)727-3071/TTY-TTD: (202) 727-2876 or info@opc-dc.gov.

Test Alert: Solar Scam

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OPC Is Addressing Solar Connection Roadblocks

Because of its location, nestled between two rivers and close to the Chesapeake Bay, the District of Columbia is particularly at risk from rising sea levels (demonstrated by the now, regular flooding of parts of the Tidal Basin). To combat these rising sea levels and other worrisome affects of climate change, the District has implemented strong goals that include significant increases in renewable and clean energy. Solar power will play a big roll in meeting the District’s climate goals, but D.C. consumers have recently been experiencing roadblocks when trying to interconnect their small scale, residential solar to the grid.

OPC has several consumer cases before the Public Service Commission regarding this problematic blocking of DC customers from interconnection. Small scale solar is relatively free and the process is meant to be “fast-tracked” in the District to help meet DC climate goals. But Pepco has been charging customers to interconnect (up to $20k in one case) and not providing customers with any reason as to why they are being charged.

As more and more customers switch to solar, the shared lines that carry the generated energy become bogged down and extra equipment is needed. Some customers are being left “holding the bag”, so to speak and getting charged for this equipment, while others had previously interconnected for free. Obviously, this is having a “chilling” effect on D.C. residents switching to solar. The Commission is concerned with the impact this will have on the District’s climate goals and is currently considering new rules to try to address the interconnection issues. OPC has taken an active role in making sure these rules will be effective in addressing the problems and will serve the needs of District consumers, while furthering the intent of the fast-track solar system – to protect our city from climate change.

The District’s Plans for Climate Resilience

Climate change has brought big changes to the weather in the District and these changes are projected to get worse. With hotter summers, increased flooding and more severe storms from climate change District communities will need to be able to “weather” these disruptions. The project of helping communities survive and thrive weather changes is called climate resilience, or climate change adaptation. The District has a series of plans that describe what the District intends to do to become climate resilient:

Climate Ready DC (2016) – The District’s first climate resilience plan, Climate Ready DC, was issued in 2016. To develop the plan the District government convened a team of technical experts to assess the likely impacts of climate change on District businesses and residents. The plan proposed 77 actions for the District to become climate ready.

Resilient DC (2019)Resilient DC expanded the focus of resiliency projects. This plan defines “urban resilience” as “the capacity of individuals, communities, institutions, businesses, and systems within a city to survive, adapt, and thrive no matter what kinds of chronic stresses and acute shocks they experience.” The plan presents a broad strategy for developing greater resilience in the District.

Strategic Roadmap for Climate Ready DC (2020) – Given the ever-increasing urgency of climate change, the 2020 Strategic Roadmap for Climate Ready DC went through a community-informed prioritization exercise to hone in on the 35 most high priority actions from the 2016 Climate Ready DC. The Plan gives update on actions, next steps, and implementation strategies for those high-priority actions.

OPC, as the advocate for gas, electric, and water consumers, is helping to educate District residents about available home or community-based resilience programs. When these programs are funded by ratepayers OPC is advocating for the programs to be cost-effective, just, affordable, and equitable.

Engagement in DOEE’s Solar for All Task Force

OPC has been actively engaged in the District Department of Energy & Environment’s (DOEE) Solar for All Task Force. In 2016, the DC Council passed the Renewable Portfolio Standard Expansion Amendment Act of 2016 into law. One of the key provisions of this statute establishes the Solar for All

Value of Solar Study

Background:

In 2015, the DC Council charged OPC to conduct a study to review and assess emerging alternatives for energy choice for residential consumers.  Given the growing importance of solar in the DC energy landscape, and OPC’s commitment to consumer empowerment and mitigating the impacts of climate change, OPC decided a study of DC solar capacity and valuation would be highly useful to policymakers and energy stakeholders, since DC has never conducted a value of solar study before. OPC issued an RFP and retained two expert consultants to conduct a Value of Solar (VoS) study for the District of Columbia.

  • There are two central components to the project:
    1. an assessment of solar capacity and value for DC overall and
    2. a review of low-income solar access issues.
  • Entire project expected to be complete by late December 2016, when OPC will host an in-person presentation on the VoS study findings presentation.  The location and date of that event will be forwarded as details are finalized.

Next steps:

Once the final report is prepared, OPC will present its findings to the Mayor, the Council, the Public Service Commission and other policy makers.

Earth Day 2022, Equity in Electrification for Consumers

April 22, 2022

OPC Combating Climate Change with Equity in Electrification
By Sandra Mattavous-Frye
People’s Counsel for the District of Columbia

The Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC) is pleased to observe Earth Day, April 22, 2022, by highlighting a recent study OPC commissioned: Equity Assessment of Electrification Incentives in the District of Columbia.

OPC has long been at the forefront of initiatives that foster a clean and healthy environment. Now, unrelenting climate change necessitates a laser focus on how to quickly move the needle forward. District residents need easy access to ways to power and heat their homes, ride public transportation, and drive without adding to the pollution that causes climate change. Equally alarming and demanding attention is the impact of environmental injustice on the District’s most vulnerable communities. The 2022 Earth Day theme is “Invest in Our Planet.” To invest in our planet, we need to invest in climate change solutions that benefit underserved communities so that all District communities can thrive.

How can we best combat climate change? How can we make sure climate solutions are just, equitable, affordable, and resilient? One potential pathway is “electrification,” switching energy and transportation systems to electricity powered by “green” energy sources to reduce climate change emissions and other air pollution, and to transition away from burning fossil fuels.

Because equity must be a central driver of any climate change plans, OPC commissioned an Equity Assessment of Electrification Incentives in the District of Columbia. The study by Applied Economics Clinic (AEC) found that about 27% of the District’s population resides in a so-called “environmental justice community.” They are more likely to be near environmental hazards, are disproportionately exposed to air pollution, and bear the brunt of climate change. Low-income residents in the District are also more likely to face a “severe” energy burden—the percentage of household income spent on energy costs. One in 14 District residents are “severely” energy-burdened, meaning they pay more than 10 percent of their income in energy costs.

To help ensure that any climate change solutions also address environmental injustice, the study examined the distribution of existing programs that promote electrification and made key recommendations to ensure future investments in electrification equitably benefit District communities, including vulnerable neighborhoods. AEC identified priorities that should influence decision-making, including community engagement and ensuring that electrification programs do not make energy bills more unaffordable for consumers who already face a high energy burden. Programs should prioritize the most equitable funding sources, including federal funding, grant funding, regional funding, and taxpayer funding instead of utility bill surcharges requiring low- and moderate-income residents to fund programs through increases in their energy bills.

There are no easy answers to combating climate change but there are solutions that can help make our communities stronger and healthier. All of us must do our part to advance these solutions. And consumers must fully participate in opportunities that bring them to the table to contribute their ideas and express their concerns.

OPC’s website, Opc-Dc, has information on how to reduce your energy use, conserve water, and learn more about District government decisions affecting climate change solutions. Sign up there for the OPC Connection, our monthly newsletter and we’ll keep you informed on key developments. Rest assured, OPC will continue to proactively address these important issues as we advocate, educate, and protect DC consumers.

Who We Are
The Office of the People’s Counsel is an independent agency of the District of Columbia government. By law, OPC is the advocate for District consumers of electric, water, natural gas, and telephone services. The Office’s mandate is to advocate for the provision of safe and reliable utility service at rates that are just, reasonable, and nondiscriminatory; to assist individual consumers in disputes with utility companies; and to provide technical assistance and consumer education to the community and stakeholders. OPC carries out its mission through the work of the following divisions.

The Climate Action Division works to ensure that OPC is effectively incorporating District of Columbia sustainability and climate goals into all aspects of our education, outreach, and advocacy. People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye launched this Division in 2020 to ensure climate action policy considerations are an integral part of OPC’s operations at a time when climate change threatens the future of our world as we know it.

The Litigation Services Division represents consumers in legal matters involving utility companies before the DC Public Service Commission, federal regulatory agencies, and the DC Court of Appeals; and engages in diverse energy, telecommunications, technical, and market monitoring functions.

The Consumer Services Division provides education and outreach to consumers on utility and energy issues; assists in the resolution of consumer complaints; and provides technical assistance to lay advocates seeking to participate in the regulatory process.

The Water Services Division serves as a voice for water consumers by investigating complaints related to DC Water services, rates, and billing; represents ratepayers at DC Water administrative hearings and rulemaking proceedings, as well as the DC Court of Appeals; and educates water consumers about their legal rights and responsibilities.

Contact Information:
Phone: (202) 727-3071
Email: info@opc-dc.gov
Website: Opc-Dc
Twitter & Instagram: @DCOPC
Facebook.com/DCPeoplesCounsel

OPC’s Advocacy Helps to Save Pepco Ratepayers $24.1 million

Washington, DC- People’s Counsel for the District of Columbia Sandra Mattavous-Frye today announced that the DC Public Service Commission has approved a settlement agreement that lowers Pepco’s distribution rates by $24.1 million. That means Pepco consumer rates will remain unchanged until 2021, based on the settlement agreement that the Office of the People’s Counsel, Pepco, D.C. Government, the Apartment & Office Building Association, and other key stakeholders proposed to the PSC in April 2018.

“In every single rate case, OPC’s seeks the maximum, tangible benefits for District consumers and this case is no exception,” states People’s Counsel Mattavous-Frye.

The agreement balances the corporate tax reductions included in the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act and Pepco’s request for a rate increase of over $66 million in December 2017. The settlement also will extend the Residential Customer Base Rate Credit OPC won for consumers in the Pepco/Exelon merger.

Combining the settlement announced yesterday with the benefit of the rate credit, residential consumers have not paid for an increase in the distribution rate for four years.

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