The OPC CONNECTION – January, 2022

A Note from ​​Your People’s Counsel

Sandra Mattavous-Frye

OPC Working for You in 2022

There’s a famous quote that says: “History repeats itself.” Here we are in January 2022 and recalling that in this space a year ago, I wrote: “As January 2021 comes to a close, there is still uncertainty over when there will be a recovery, even as many are hopeful of better times ahead.”

Of course, I was speaking about the difficult times resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though there is more information and more tools to fight this scourge, many are still suffering and recovering from economic losses.

For OPC, assisting struggling utility consumers has meant an adjustment of resources to respond to a significant increase in calls for help as the moratoriums on utility disconnections were lifted first on October 12, 2021 for some consumers and on January 10, 2022 for lower income residents.

For example, from October 2021 to date, our Consumer Services Division has addressed 719 cases, including 472 requests for help with electric, gas, and local phone utilities in the first quarter of fiscal year 2022–an increase of 131% over the first quarter 2021. For water consumers, our Water Services Division has handled 340 cases from October 1 to date–a quarterly increase of 273%. Overall, the majority of the complaints are about high bills and other payment problems.

As the District reopened last year, OPC staffers were able to safely attend numerous community meetings and events. Now, we continue to be busy “zooming” into webinars and virtual gatherings across all eight wards to make consumers aware of agency services.

Addressing climate change has been top of mind in recent weeks. OPC presented at the DC Commission on Climate Change & Resiliency Knowledge Forum and highlighted the important components of equitable climate change solutions. OPC testified at two DC Council hearings, commenting on efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and on initiatives to prepare the District for the effects of climate change

As 2022 progresses, legal proceedings, energy efficiency, and environmental justice initiatives will be on OPC’s agenda, among other important matters.

We look forward to connecting with you in 2022!

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Edgar S. Cahn, Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law, on January 23. Professor Cahn was co-dean and co-founder with his late wife, Jean Camper Cahn, of the Antioch School of Law, UDC Law’s predecessor. I am a proud alumnus of Antioch and began my legal career as an intern there. I was attracted to Antioch because its clinical training focused on legal services for the poor and was the first law school in the United States with that advocacy focus. The Cahns are acknowledged as co-founders of the Legal Services Program. They also founded the Time Dollar Youth Court, in which teen juries judge cases of teens arrested for non-violent offenses. Professor Cahn also served as Vice Chair of the Mayor’s Juvenile Advocacy Group. I’ll cherish the memory depicted in the photo above from 2016 when I served on a panel about Antioch’s legacy with from left, fellow alumnus Jonathan Smith, Professor Cahn and former UDC Law Dean Shelley Broderick. My condolences to Professor Cahn’s family and the many students and educators in the UDC/Antioch community he touched.

For most of the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic, moratoriums on utility disconnections have prohibited service interruptions. Now that the moratoriums have been lifted, and freezing temperatures are gripping the city, consumers are reminded that the weather also influences shutoffs.

DC law bars a utility from disconnecting residential electric or natural gas service on the day preceding and on the day when there is a forecast of extreme temperature in the District, and when the National Weather Service forecast is 32 degrees Fahrenheit or below. Disconnections also are prohibited around a holiday or weekend day.

These protections are included in the Consumer Bill of Rights that provides safeguards for consumers of natural gas, electric, and telecommunications services in the District of Columbia.

Protect Your Pipes!

The Washington area has seen fluctuating temperatures and substantial snowfall this winter. We experienced 60 degrees one day and the next day a snowstorm. These yo-yo conditions put stress on plumbing infrastructure in public and private settings. The pipes most at-risk of freezing are:

  • Pipes exposed to severe cold, like outdoor hose bibs, swimming pool supply lines, and water sprinkler lines.
  • Water supply pipes in unheated interior areas like basements and crawl spaces, attics, garages, or kitchen cabinets.
  • Pipes that run against exterior walls with little or no insulation.

If these pipes freeze, it can cause thousands of dollars in damage. To prevent your interior pipes from freezing, please consider the following:

  • Set home thermostats above 60 degrees during cold weather.
  • Moving water prevents pipes from freezing. Drip cold water in the farthest faucet from your main valve.
  • Identify the location of your shut-off valves for emergencies. The water valve is typically around where the water main enters the home.
  • Insulate pipes in unheated areas.
  • If you have pipes on an exterior wall, make sure you open the cupboards and vanities to warm pipes.
  • If you have pipes on an exterior wall, make sure you open the cupboards and vanities to warm pipes.

In a worst-case scenario where your pipes do freeze, the OPC Water Services Division recommends that you contact a certified plumber and DC Water. For additional assistance, contact OPC WSD staff at (202) 727-3071.

“OPC Radio Connect” returns to the air this month with another informative podcast featuring energy efficiency and conservation programs offered through the DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU).

People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye welcomes Ted Trabue, DCSEU’s Managing Director. They discuss programs that consumers can take advantage of like home energy audits, appliance rebates, job training, and going solar.

Trabue explains the circumstances that motivated city officials to create DCSEU a decade ago. Among other interesting tidbits, Trabue shares that more than 6,000 residents have been able to reduce their energy bills by half through solar programs, even though most do not have solar panels on their individual home.

OPC encourages you to contact DCSEU to learn how you can start saving! Call (202) 479-2222 (dial O) or visit DCSEU.com to find programs available to residents and businesses.

Watch OPC Radio Connect podcasts at opc-dc.gov. Listen to shows Monday – Friday, 7 to 7:30 am, on DCRadio.gov, on the radio at 96.3 HD 4, and on demand wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts

The Federal Communications Commission says it’s responding to the digital divide by introducing a new resource to help increase broadband access to those least able to afford it. On December 31, 2021, the FCC launched the Affordability Connectivity Program (ACP) – a $14.2 billion initiative that replaces the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB).

While the EBB was designed to provide help to keep things connected during the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACP is expanded. According to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, “Now with the long-term Affordable Connectivity Program, we have the opportunity to enroll even more households and help ensure they can afford the connections they need for work, school, health care, and more for years.”

Program eligibility has been expanded to include consumers who have been hit hard by the pandemic. OPC recognizes that obtaining and maintaining connectivity is essential during these times and encourages consumers to see if they qualify and sign up at ACPBenefit.org.

*OPC represents customers with landline telephones only and does not have jurisdiction over internet and cable services.

In late December 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) provided much-needed relief for consumers in the District and throughout the Mid-Atlantic and Midwest states served by grid operator PJM when it revised a flawed decision on energy reserve power pricing that failed to adequately protect consumers from unjustified high prices.

In the spring of 2020, FERC approved a PJM proposal for pricing energy reserves, or the extra power that must be purchased in times of high demand like hot summer days and cold winter nights. OPC recognizes the importance of energy reserves for ensuring reliable service. However, OPC opposed this specific proposal because it lacked adequate protections for consumers. For example, during extreme weather or a disruption in energy supply like the closing of a natural gas pipeline, prices could skyrocket with consumers facing catastrophic energy bills like those Texas consumers experienced last year. These costs would be passed on to all consumers in the region on top of local rates. OPC believes, at a minimum, any similar reserve energy pricing model must contain a “circuit breaker” that would limit the additional “emergency” costs consumers could face.

In the spring of 2020, FERC approved a PJM proposal for pricing energy reserves, or the extra power that must be purchased in times of high demand like hot summer days and cold winter nights. OPC recognizes the importance of energy reserves for ensuring reliable service. However, OPC opposed this specific proposal because it lacked adequate protections for consumers. For example, during extreme weather or a disruption in energy supply like the closing of a natural gas pipeline, prices could skyrocket with consumers facing catastrophic energy bills like those Texas consumers experienced last year. These costs would be passed on to all consumers in the region on top of local rates. OPC believes, at a minimum, any similar reserve energy pricing model must contain a “circuit breaker” that would limit the additional “emergency” costs consumers could face.

As FERC Commissioner Mark Christie explained, “Changes to PJM’s reserve market construct that were approved in 2020 pose an unacceptable risk that hundreds of millions of dollars of additional costs could be placed on consumers without a conclusive demonstration, in my view, of a commensurate increase in reliability.” OPC could not agree more.

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

Formal Case No. 1156: Pepco’s Application for Authority to Implement a Multiyear Rate Plan for Electric Distribution Service

On December 17, OPC provided the PSC with a Petition for Review that was filed with the DC Court of Appeals.

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

On January 6, OPC and other parties filed a Joint Response to Pepco’s Application to Clarification Order No. 21061.

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.