The OPC CONNECTION – April 2020
A Note from Your People’s Counsel
What a Difference a Year…or 50 Years…Make
Fifty years ago on April 22, the world stood up in defense of the environment and Earth Day was born. Earth Day 1970 was the launching pad for a citizen movement that produced new environmental laws and public investments to reduce air pollution, protect nature and clean our water. Today, as climate change threatens the environment, the 50th anniversary of Earth Day should move all of us to recommit to do our part to save the good earth.
The need for proactive action is critical because of the real-life consequences of climate change, such as unsettling weather conditions. Recently, I established a Climate and Sustainability Policy Division in the Office of the People’s Counsel that will ensure climate action policy considerations are an integral part of OPC’s operations
Along with Earth Day, OPC observed another significant occurrence this month. April 11, 2020 marked the one year anniversary of a law that gave the Office the authority to advocate for DC Water consumers. The new statute created the OPC Water Services Division (WSD) to resolve consumer concerns and complaints and advocate for consumers at DC Water rate proceedings.
Coincidentally, I shared WSD’s success in serving District residents over the past year in the Washington Informer Newspaper’s “Sustainability Supplement in Observance of Earth Day.” I am proud of the on-the-ground work my staff has accomplished in just one year to ensure District residents in all eight wards have clean, affordable, and reliable water services.
While you are staying home to be safe and healthy, thanks for taking a look at my Informer article here.
Water and COVID-19: Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need to boil my water?
No. DC Water and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) say boiling your tap water is not required as a precaution against COVID-19. Americans can use and drink tap water as usual. Public water systems, such as DC Water, are required to monitor and remove pathogens, including viruses. Health experts say risk of COVID-19 virus to water supply is low.
Do wastewater treatment plants treat COVID-19?
? Yes, according to DC Water and the EPA, wastewater plants treat viruses and other pathogens. The COVID-19 is a type of coronavirus that is particularly susceptible to disinfection.
Can the coronavirus spread to humans through the use of pools, hot tubs, spas or water playgrounds?
There is no evidence to suggest that, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Proper operation, maintenance and disinfection should deactivate the virus that causes COVID-19.
Is DC Water making home visits?
DC Water is suspending service calls that require employees to enter customers’ homes, except for emergencies. That includes scheduled appointments to investigate internal leaks, meter replacements or sets. In addition, meter readers will not enter residential properties to read internal water meters.
What if I have problems paying my water bill?
OPC strongly urges customers to keep paying as much as you can. Contact OPC NOW to learn how you can set up a payment plan or obtain financial assistance to help pay your bills. The usual financial assistance may be limited once the utility moratoriums on disconnections are lifted.
DC Water has temporarily suspended service disconnections for nonpayment.
The utility also is restoring water service for disconnected residents, waiving late fees. Customers whose water is disconnected can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call DC Water at 202-354-3750. You also can contact OPC’s Water Services Division at (202) 727-3071, email us at email@example.com or visit www.opc-dc.com to file a complaint.
The District of Columbia Government has developed a website to help residents and businesses access health information, assistance programs, unemployment insurance and other resources. Visit coronavirus.dc.gov to get the help you need today!
With the President signing the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) last month, the federal government has committed to providing $900 million nationwide to consumers struggling to pay their utility bills. The money will be distributed through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The exact amounts to be made available will vary by jurisdiction.
DC residents who need help paying utility bills may to apply for LIHEAP through the District Department of Energy and Environment. Go to https://doee.dc.gov/liheap or call DOEE at(202) 535-2600.
Find additional assistance at USA.gov here. Find additional information from the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association, the primary educational and policy organization for LIHEAP state directors, at https://neada.org/covidliheapfaq/
On April 13, 2020, the Office of the People’s Counsel requested the DC Public Service Commission suspend Pepco’s case seeking to increase rates until Mayor Muriel Bowser lifts the emergency declaration related to the coronavirus pandemic. The basis for the Office’s request is that the pandemic has altered many factors that need to be examined and are critical to determining Pepco’s rates. OPC’s request is not uncommon. To date, three utility commissions – New York, North Carolina and South Carolina, have either suspended rate case proceedings or ordered the delay of rate increases.
The Commission will render a decision based on OPC’s motion and Pepco’s response to the filing.
OPC recently settled two long standing proceedings with Pepco and its parent company, Exelon, at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Both proceedings address wholesale transmission rates, the cost Pepco charges customers to bring power into the District from where it is generated.
The first proceeding results from the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) which lowered corporate tax rates from 35% to 21%. The amount of taxes a utility pays factors into how much it charges for transmission, in addition to other determiners such as the cost of building and maintaining power lines. Therefore, when the tax rate goes down, consumers should receive the benefit of the lower tax rate through reduced transmission rates. Under the settlement reached by OPC, other consumer advocates, public power entities, and Pepco and Exelon, Pepco ratepayers in the District will share in a one-time credit of approximately $5 million. This credit covers excess transmission costs that ratepayers incurred in 2018 during the period between when the TCJA went into effect and when the new, lower transmission rates were approved. This credit will be applied based on individual ratepayers’ 2018 wholesale transmission charges.
The second proceeding resulted from Pepco proposing changes to its wholesale electricity rate, or Formula Transmission Rate. As proposed, the rate lacked transparency and made it hard for consumer advocates to challenge Pepco on its data and calculations before FERC. After months of settlement proceedings, OPC-DC, Maryland OPC, and the Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative negotiated a revised set of protocols by which the formula rate will be administered. The settlement also resulted in a list of standing data requests that will help provide much-needed details of the formula rate, for review on an annual basis.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1156: Pepco’s Application to Implement a Multiyear Rate Plan for Electric Distribution Service
On April 8, OPC filed Rebuttal Testimony and Exhibits. On April 13, OPC, along with several other parties in this case, filed an emergency motion to suspend the rate increase case during the COVID-19 crisis.
PEPACR2020-01-E: Pepco’s Annual Consolidated Report
On April 15, OPC filed an Unopposed Motion for Enlargement of Time to Submit Comments to Pepco’s 2020 Annual Consolidated Report to give OPC additional time to obtain technical consulting. The ACR provides an assessment of current and future plans for Pepco’s underground distribution and network facilities. OPC, PSC and Pepco work together to decide which reports are best suited to be included in the ACR.
Formal Case No. 1155: Pepco’s Application for Approval of its Transportation Electrification Program.
On March 16, OPC filed comments on the Implementation of TE Approved Offerings. The comments seek to ensure that the implementation process is fair to all DC residents.
Formal Case No. 1130: The Investigation into Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability.
On April 8, OPC requested Continuation of Membership in the Rate Design Working Group, designated two staff attorneys to participate on behalf of the office, and filed a request to add new members.
Formal Case No. 1162: Washington Gas Light Company’s Application to Increase Existing Rates and Charges.
On March 19, OPC filed a Motion to Hold Formal Case No. 1162 in Abeyance Pending Resolution of WGL’s PROJECTpipes 2 Application in Formal Case No. 1154. On April 15 in Formal Case No. 1162, OPC and the Joint Interveners filed Proposed Revisions to Commission Staff’s Proposed Procedural Schedule and Proposed Additional Topics for WGL’s Supplemental Direct Testimony.
Formal Case No. 1115: WGL’s Request for Approval of a Revised Accelerated Pipe Replacement Program
Formal Case No. 1142: The Merger of AltaGas Ltd. and WGL
Formal Case No. 1154: WGL’s Application for Approval of PROJECTpipes 2 Plan
Formal Case No. 1162: WGL’s Application to Increase Existing Rates and Charges.
On March 24, OPC filed a Motion to Reply to Washington Gas’s Response, seeking to provide the Commission the factually accurate and clear record it needs to render an informed decision on the various pleadings currently before the PSC regarding the proper procedural schedule for Pipes 2 and the proposed further extension of Pipes 1.
On March 30 in Formal Case No. 1115, OPC filed Initial Comments on WGL’s Year 5 Completed Projects Reconciliation Report, addressing each project offering and seeking to assist the Commission in ensuring that the implementation process of the approved offerings are equitable to all District residents and provide tangible benefits that are affordable and sustainable. On April 9 in Formal Case No. 1154, OPC filed a proposed procedural schedule.
Community Outreach Specialist Valca Valentine
Just over a year ago, when OPC became the statutory advocate for DC Water consumers, the Office brought on a talented team of professionals to make up the new Water Services Division (WSD). They included Community Outreach Specialist Valca Valentine
Valca’s strategic communications and outreach experience brought a tool kit to WSD to complement a division that has delivered numerous benefits to water consumers. Valca has used her background as a journalist and public relations manager to build on her responsibilities at OPC. They include case management, community outreach and contributing to this newsletter. You might have seen her at various neighborhood events, community meetings– and these days–at virtual Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings.
Born in the North Carolina, but bred in the District, Valca attended Georgetown Visitation High School and Howard University. A former DC government staffer with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and the Departments of Health, and Small and Local Business Development, she says being in the act of service brings her the greatest joy.
“I’m grateful to be part of an agency of dedicated staffers,” Valca says. “OPC is a place where I can join others who work to ensure critical utility services to DC residents.”
Valca came to OPC after a 10-year DC government hiatus during which she was certified to train and coach adults and children in stress-reduction techniques. She believes practicing her Mindfulness Meditation skills helps to ease the anxiety of consumers she assists.
Regular pauses are critical for peace of mind and healthy engagement. “People say they are too stressed to meditate,” she says. “If you can breathe you can meditate.” Many water consumers are now resting better as a result of Valca’s engagement with them.
Take Advantage of the ITC
The Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for residential and commercial solar installations was established in 2015 through the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005. The credit has been extended numerous times since then. In December 2015, Congress passed a spending bill extending the ITC to 2021 for homeowners who purchase their solar energy systems with annual tax credits reductions. Commercial installers can get the benefit beyond 2021.
The tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in the income taxes that a homeowner or company would otherwise pay the federal government. The ITC is based on the amount of investment in solar property. OPC wants you to be aware of these ITC updates:
- From 2016 to 2019: homeowners of new residential solar systems and commercial solar installations were allowed to write-off a 30% tax credit.
- 2020: the ITC write-off for new residential and commercial solar installations was reduced to 26% of the cost of the system.
- 2021: the ITC tax write-off for new residential and commercial installations was further reduced to 22% of the cost of the system.
- 2022: no ITC for residential solar installations; 10% write-off for commercials solar installations.
Contact your tax preparer to take advantage of the ITC. Also visit: https://www.seia.org/initiatives/solar-investment-tax-credit-itc
Prior to the public health emergency, OPC debuted on March 9, “OPC Radio Connect,” a podcast hosted by People’s Counsel Sandra MattavousFrye. The goal of OPC Radio Connect is to present information on a variety of utility and energy-related issues and how they relate to the daily lives of DC consumers. The podcast is broadcast from the studios of the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment’s DC Radio. DC Radio production is now on hiatus.But in the meantime, you can listen to early recordings of OPC Radio Connect on DC Radio 96.3 H D 4 , DCRadio.gov, Google and Alexa, Monday – Friday, 7-7:30 am. We hope to get back on the air with new shows soon
During the COVID-19 crisis, many Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANC) and civic associations are holding their monthly meetings online. OPC outreach staff in the Consumer Services and Water Services Divisions have been attending these meetings and offering helpful utility information. In addition, staffers have been participating in online training and lectures on a variety of utility-related topics, ranging from third party energy suppliers to emergency utility assistance programs. In turn, relevant information is shared with consumers. We will continue to engage consumers using every method available during the pandemic.
Consumer Outreach Specialist Cheryl Morse presents at the ANC 2A virtual meeting and makes members aware that OPC is assisting consumers remotely during the public health emergency.
New Material Added!
OPC conducts dozens of workshops in DC schools to teach children of all ages simple tips to help their families save energy and money on utility bills. With distance learning during these challenging times, the OPC website has activity and coloring book pages that can be downloaded and printed. They share energy efficiency and safety messages. Find the pages in English and Spanish here.