The OPC CONNECTION – December, 2021

A Note from ​​Your People’s Counsel

Sandra Mattavous-Frye

Equity, Electrification, Energy

OPC has long been at the forefront of initiatives that foster a clean and healthy environment. Now, as we head into 2022, unrelenting climate change necessitates a laser focus on how to quickly move the needle forward. Equally alarming and demanding attention is the impact of environmental injustice on the District’s most vulnerable communities.

How can we best combat climate change? One potential pathway is “electrification,” switching energy and transportation systems to electricity powered by “green” energy sources to reduce emissions and transition away from fossil fuels. Utility climate change plans and electrification are issues in proceedings before the DC Public Service Commission. Because I believe 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.

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.

There are no easy answers to combating climate change. Rest assured, OPC will continue to proactively address these important issues as we advocate, educate, and protect DC consumers in the New Year and beyond.

Along with OPC staff below,I wish you Safe, Healthy, and Happy Holidays!

Could You be at Risk of a Water Shutoff? OPC is Here to Help

Almost 300 DC households are currently at risk of having their water service disconnected.

On December 1st, DC Water began cutting off the water of consumers with at least $600 in outstanding bills. If you receive a 60-day past due notice, please do not ignore it. Households may qualify for a 90-day exemption but are at risk of disconnection after January 12th.

DC Water acknowledges the financial toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on consumers. To provide bill payment assistance, the water authority launched DC Water Cares. DC Water also offers emergency assistance to tenants who live in multi-family buildings. Besides these, there are several other relief programs to help consumers keep the water flowing at a time when water is life-saving.

OPC’s Water Services Division began working with DC Water consumers in advance of the October 12th expiration of the moratorium on utility disconnections. Since October, WSD has responded to more than 200 requests for assistance. That’s a 240% increase over the number of calls for help last year. The lifting of the moratorium and anticipation of disconnections have triggered the surge.

Despite the heavy caseload, know that our consumer service specialists are working aggressively to avert water shutoffs. We cannot stress enough–act now and utilize available resources to save your services.

OPC is here to help!

We’re back in the studio with a new OPC Radio Connect Podcast in production. Recently People’s Counsel Sandra MattavousFrye interviewed Ted Trabue (pictured), Managing Director of the DC Sustainable Energy Utility. Stay tuned for the conversation during which the People’s Counsel and Director Trabue delve into the work of the DCSEU over 10 years and how it benefits consumers. Previous episodes of OPC Radio Connect are airing Monday – Friday from 7 to 7:30 am on DC Radio 96.3 HD 4, on DCRadio.gov, on-demand on the DC Radio app, and wherever you listen to your podcasts. We’ll let you know on OPC social media when the latest show will run. In the meantime, find previously recorded segments on opc-dc.

In early December, OPC’s Consumer Services Division received a good report from a “happy customer.” But the treasurer of the Churchill Condo Association in Southeast didn’t have happy feelings back in April when he complained to OPC that the Pepco charges for the common area of his building had increased “five times their normal rate.” OPC contacted Pepco and after an investigation, it was determined that the utility was treating the condo building, which used to house a church, as commercial property, rather than residential, and therefore the electric bills were higher.

There is a happy ending to this story. After OPC’s intervention, Pepco returned to the residential association a refund more than $5,000, instead of giving them a bill credit. “Thanks for your efforts…as it simply wouldn’t have happened without it,” writes the treasurer. “As a small association with only 11 units, the $5,000+ (annual) electric was increasingly difficult to manage—and utterly ridiculous…Our common area electric usage is less than that of any individual residential unit.”

The moral of this story: OPC reminds consumers to carefully read all of their utility bills and contact OPC at (202) 727-3071 if you suspect any errors.

In the November OPC Connection, we told you the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates awarded People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye its Robert F. Manifold Lifetime Service Award for achievements throughout her career. That happened during a virtual ceremony on November 8th. But as promised, NASUCA Executive Director David Springe delivered NASUCA’s highest award to the People’s Counsel.

Robert F. Manifold served as the Chief Public Counsel for the Washington State Attorney General’s Office and was a passionate supporter of NASUCA.

In accepting the award, People’s Counsel Mattavous-Frye thanked OPC staff for their tireless support. She commented that her service comes from her passionate commitment and insistence that consumers are entitled to safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable utility services.

A Ward 5 resident writes:

“I am writing to acknowledge the professionalism and kindness of one of your staff members, Ms. Cheryl Morse (left), who I have had the pleasure of working with over the past 2 weeks. Ms. Morse has been responsive, gracious, and extremely thorough in helping to address an unresolved issue with Washington Gas.

“She exemplifies the kind of service a resident hopes to receive from a DC agency…I feel confident that your office, through Ms. Morse’s efforts, will help several residents in my neighborhood get the service we have been paying for and not receiving for a long time. Please relay my thanks and appreciation to Ms. Morse.”

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

Formal Case No. 1160: Development of Metrics for Electric Company and Gas Company Energy Efficiency and Demand Response Programs Pursuant to Section 201 (b) of the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act of 2018.

On November 23, OPC filed Comments with the PSC onPepco’s Three-Year Energy Efficiency and Demand Response Program Application.

Formal Case No. 1167: Implementation of Electric and Natural Gas Climate Change Proposal

On December 3, OPC filed the study, Equity Assessment of Electrification Incentives in the District of Columbia. The report was prepared by the Applied Economics Clinic for OPC. The report discusses the potential pathway for reducing emissions in the District. (See People’s Counsel Note above).

On December 7, OPC filed Comments on Pepco’s Climate Solutions 5-Year Action Plan

WGRORETR2021-01-G: Washington Gas Light Company’s Quarterly Report on Weather-Normalized Jurisdictional Earned Return

On December 10, OPC filed a Response in Partial Opposition to Washington Gas Light Company’s Motion to Waive Quarterly Reports.

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.