The OPC CONNECTION – April, 2022

A Note from ​​Your People’s Counsel

Sandra Mattavous-Frye

Pepco Construction Leaves Homeowners Shaken OPC Says Level Up

Whether it’s one complaint or 100, when consumer concerns about a utility’s practices come to OPC’s attention, we step up to try to find a resolution. Such is the case with homeowners in Takoma Park.

In early 2021, the Office of People’s Counsel received several complaints from residents along Eastern Avenue, NW, who claimed nearby Pepco construction work allegedly caused damage to the foundation of their homes. At least 18 homeowners have filed complaints against Pepco seeking damages. They also expressed concerns about noise and vibrations. Many had already attempted to resolve their issues directly with Pepco, while others had turned to the news media for help, with no satisfactory resolution.

Upon learning of the claims, OPC hired an engineering firm to independently investigate the reports of damage. On October 14, based upon the findings of the engineering investigation, OPC filed a petition with the Public Service Commission (PSC), requesting a formal investigation. The goal of OPC’s petition was to determine if Pepco is using proper construction practices, if costs should be returned to ratepayers, and to make sure protocols are put in place to avoid future damage to the Takoma Park homes and properties in other neighborhoods.

In response to OPC’s petition, Pepco revealed that the construction was part of the Capital Grid Project and requested the PSC to deny the petition. On April 7, 2022, the PSC declined to initiate an investigation into Pepco’s construction practices. Among the reasons for not moving forward, the Commission cited Pepco’s assertion that qualified firms that use standard industry practices are doing the work. The Commission further held that determining if Pepco’s construction costs are reasonable should be in a rate increase case.

OPC is monitoring the number of future complaints and expects to make consumer losses an issue the PSC should consider when Pepco requests a rate increase in January 2023. If you have contacted Pepco and remain dissatisfied, you can file a complaint with OPC on this link.

OPC will keep consumers informed about any opportunities to comment on Pepco’s construction practices.

In case you missed it, People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye writes in the Washington Informer’s Earth Day Sustainability Supplement about OPC’s recent study delving into the need for equity in electrification to address climate change. Read the article here.

Advice for Renters to Keep the Water Running

About 60% of DC residents are rental tenants. Some lease agreements hold renters responsible for paying utilities. Although leases are supposed to clearly identify who must pay the utilities, OPC encourages renters to read the fine print and understand their responsibility.

Handling water bills in multi-family dwellings can be complicated. There are different scenarios

  • Landlord is responsible for paying water bills
    The renter does not make payments to DC Water or their landlord. It should be clearly stated in the lease that the landlord is responsible.
  • Tenant is responsible for paying water bills
    Typically, renters in single-family homes will have a lease that states the tenant is responsible for payment of water.HINT: Read your lease to see if the landlord requires you to put the bill in your name. If so, the landlord will need to contact DC Water to provide you access to the account.Many renters miss payments and are charged a late fee because they don’t have access to their unit’s water bill.
  • Tenant is responsible for paying a third-party biller
    Typically, in buildings with multiple units, the landlord hires a third-party biller to determine the bill for each individual unit. Because the building only has one water meter, the third-party biller creates a formula to identify a water bill for each unit. The lease should explain the calculation formula.BEWARE: The formula is not always going to identify individual water usage; therefore, you can still receive a hefty water bill even if you are conserving water. Typically, the third-party biller charges a service fee. OPC’s Water Services Division can assist consumers who are primary account holders with DC Water and not tied to a third-party biller. However, OPC is limited in assisting water consumers of third-party billers. To protect tenants paying to a third-party biller, OPC recommends the following actions:CAREFULLY READ YOUR LEASE Understand the formula third-party billers are using in calculating your water bill.

    ROUTINELY REVIEW YOUR BILL Monitor the cost of water each month and identify any spikes.

    IF YOU HAVE A PLUMBING PROBLEM, CONTACT YOUR LANDLORD IMMEDIATELY Leaky pipes and faucets can cause water usage to spike significantly.

    BE AWARE OF RESOURCES Office of the People’s Counsel: Contact OPC’s Water Services Division at (202) 727-3071 Office of the Tenant Advocate: Contact OTA at (202) 719-6560

    The Office of the People’s Counsel wants to help you keep the water running no matter your housing situation.

Get to Know an OPC Partner:

Emanuel Briggs, Manager of Community Outreach, DC Water Office of Marketing and Communications

With DC Water for 12 years, Emanuel Briggs directs DC Water’s participation in nearly 200 outreach events and meetings across the District each year. The native Washingtonian received a bachelor’s degree in behavioral and social sciences and a master’s degree in community planning from the University of Maryland. With 19 years of experience in community and stakeholder engagement, Mr. Briggs is also an urban planner with a specialization in urban design.

  • How does OPC partner with DC Water?OPC has been instrumental in helping DC Water to connect with larger numbers of key stakeholders to promote our customer assistance programs.
  • What new DC Water initiatives are in the pipeline? In addition to our expanded customer assistance programs, which we have been aggressively promoting at outreaches, with OPC’s partnership, DC Water is promoting our new “Lead-Free DC” Initiative. The Lead Service Line Replacement Plan is designed to replace all remaining lead and galvanized water residential service lines by the year 2030. This is a bold endeavor, but we are determined to achieve our goal. We have implemented a robust communications plan, met with many Advisory Neighborhood Commissions/ANCs, conducted extensive door-to-door outreach, and engaged customers at a host of community events.
  • How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted service?The biggest impact was in 2020 when we were forced to cancel the bulk of our community events. We pivoted toward a solid program of virtual meetings, but we truly missed key opportunities to meet our valued customers where they are – out in the community!
  • What’s some good advice you have for DC Water consumers?Don’t hesitate to contact DC Water customer service if you need assistance at (202) 354-3600, take advantage of relief programs, and visit dcwater.com for helpful information, including our events calendar.
  • How do practice wellness and reduce stress?I like to plan, prioritize, and schedule my work assignments. I don’t like to scramble or feel overwhelmed. Makes life much easier! At the end of the workday, I take leisurely drives to clear my head. I spend lots of time with my puppy, Theo, because he is a stress reliever and keeps me entertained. I am a HUGE music buff, so I do LOTS of singing around the house!

Meet Assistant People’s Counsel Ankush Nayar

This month’s employee spotlight is on Attorney Ankush Nayar, who joined OPC as an Assistant People’s Counsel about two months ago

Ankush hails from the DMV and grew up in Virginia and Maryland. He graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in finance and government and a minor in English before receiving his law degree from George Washington University.

Prior to coming to OPC, Ankush served as an Assistant Attorney General with the Office of the Maryland Attorney General and as Counsel to the Maryland Energy Administration. Attorney Nayar brings a wealth of experience in energy related matters to OPC.

When he’s not representing the legal interests of DC ratepayers, Ankush enjoys playing sports and running around with his dog. When asked to share an interesting fact about himself, Ankush shared that we would be surprised that he sang in an acapella group in college. It’s “music to our ears,” that Ankush is on staff to represent DC utility consumers.

In 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued Order No. 2222 with the goal of removing barriers to the participation of distributed energy resources (DERs) in the wholesale power markets administered by grid operators like PJM Interconnection, which coordinates the flow of electricity to the District and Mid-Atlantic states. DERs include rooftop and community solar and are the “mom and pop” resources of the energy world. Including DERs in the wholesale market, where utilities like Pepco buy their power, can increase electric reliability and resiliency, promote active consumer participation, increase competition, lower costs, and help decarbonize the electric grid. Programs like the District’s “Solar for All,” which brings the benefits of solar technology to residents at all income levels, are critically dependent on effective implementation of Order No. 2222.

In 2020, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued Order No. 2222 with the goal of removing barriers to the participation of distributed energy resources (DERs) in the wholesale power markets administered by grid operators like PJM Interconnection, which coordinates the flow of electricity to the District and Mid-Atlantic states. DERs include rooftop and community solar and are the “mom and pop” resources of the energy world. Including DERs in the wholesale market, where utilities like Pepco buy their power, can increase electric reliability and resiliency, promote active consumer participation, increase competition, lower costs, and help decarbonize the electric grid. Programs like the District’s “Solar for All,” which brings the benefits of solar technology to residents at all income levels, are critically dependent on effective implementation of Order No. 2222.

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

GD-2022-01-E: Complaint and Investigation into Pepco’s Community Renewable Energy Facility Practices.

On March 23, 2022, OPC filed a joint complaint and petition with the Office of the DC Attorney General for investigation into Pepco’s Community Renewable Energy Facility (CREF) practices.

RM40-2022-01-E, The Matter of 15 DCMR Chapter 40: District of Columbia Small Generator Interconnection Rules

On March 28, OPC filed Comments Regarding the Proposed Amendment to Small Generator Interconnections Rules.

Formal Case No. 1169: Washington Gas Light Company’s Application for Authority to Increase Existing Rates and Charges for Gas Service

On April 8, OPC filed a motion requesting the Commission to hold in abeyance the Washington Gas rate case. This motion is for the Commission to require Washington Gas to meet customer service mandates before requesting a rate increase.

OPC looks forward to seeing you in-person. We welcome the opportunity to speak at your Advisory Neighborhood Commission, civic association or community group meeting onsite or virtually. We can give updates on utility issues, trends, and outline how we serve. Call (202) 727-3071 if your group would like our staff to stop by or “Zoom in.” Contact the organizations listed below if you would like links to attend the meetings we’ll be visiting virtually.

ANC 8E
Date:Monday, May 2, 2022
Time:6:30 PM – 8:30 PM
Virtual

ANC 8C
Date:Wednesday, May 4
Time:6:30 PM – 7:00 PM
Virtual

Department of Aging and Community Living Nineteenth Street Baptist Church Senior Ministry Cooking Demonstration and Healthy Food Choices
Date:Tuesday, May 17
Time:11:30 AM – 1:30 PM
Virtual

ANC 7C
Date:Thursday, May 19
Time:6:30 PM-7:30 PM
Virtual

Ward 4 CARE Day – Chevy Chase
Date:Thursday, May 26
Time:4:00 PM – 7:00 PM
Lafayette-Pointer Recreation Center

Do you have feedback or an idea for an article that could be featured in an upcoming edition of the OPC Connection? We want to hear from you! Just drop our editorial team an email @ info@opc-dc.gov or tweet us @DCOPC.