The OPC CONNECTION – November, 2021

A Note from ​​Your People’s Counsel

Sandra Mattavous-Frye

OPC Advocates at City Hall to Keep Utilities Connected

OPC’s purpose is to advocate, educate and protect District of Columbia utility consumers. Among its myriad responsibilities, the agency monitors, recommends, and helps to craft DC Council legislation. That role was especially critical during the COVID-19 pandemic because numerous measures related to keeping essential utility services running and consumers’ ability to pay their bills.

The Council enacted a moratorium on disconnections during the pandemic. However, in July 2021, the Council approved legislation allowing utility companies to begin shutting off gas, electric, water, and telephone services for some residents on October 12. Affected customers included those who owed more than $600. But utilities must give at least 60 days advance notice, provide information about payment assistance programs, and turn service back on if the consumer enters a payment plan and makes a minimum $10 payment.

OPC helped hundreds of consumers apply for programs such as STAY DC that provided financial assistance to pay utility bills. Unfortunately, October 27 was the last day to apply for the federally funded program. Without a STAY DC application pending, a customer’s utilities could be disconnected.

To address this issue, OPC worked with the DC Council earlier this month on the passage of the “Tenant Safe Harbor Emergency Amendment Act of 2021.” The measure expands eligibility for consumers, delaying shutoffs if they provide documentation that they qualify for financial relief within 90 days of October 12. Therefore, eligible residents will not be disconnected until January 2022.

This is just one example of how the Office of the People’s Counsel has advocated for consumers on the legislative front to ensure that they will always be protected, even when times are tough.

If you are facing possible disconnection of any utility or need help finding bill payment assistance or setting up a payment plan, OPC can help. Call (202) 727-3071.

I am honored to announce that on November 8, I was awarded the National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates Robert F. Manifold Lifetime Service Award. Recognizing “many years of service to utility consumers in Washington, DC,” NASUCA presented the award to me at a virtual ceremony during its annual meeting. NASUCA’s highest honor, the Manifold Award is given to “individuals who have demonstrated the highest level of dedication to public service over their career,” said NASUCA Executive Director David Springe. He also presented the award to former New Jersey state utility consumer advocate Stefanie Brand. (See photo below.)

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

“I thank NASUCA’s Executive Committee for choosing me for this award and for recognizing that the service I give to District of Columbia consumers comes from my passionate commitment and insistence that consumers are entitled to safe, reliable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable utility services. During my 30-year tenure the utility industry has undergone sweeping changes and I predict future changes will be equally far-reaching. While we must prepare for shifting paradigms, we must never lose sight of our fundamental obligation to utility consumers.”

“I accept this award with gratitude for my staff who are daily in the trenches carrying out our mission. As we all faced difficult times during the COVID-19 pandemic, they worked hard to ensure that District residents received the same high level of service OPC delivers during normal times.”

Outstanding Water Bill? Act Now to Avoid Disconnection!

OPC’s Water Services Division (WSD) wants consumers to know that DC Water can begin disconnecting service for some customers with outstanding bills of $600 or more as early as December 1. However, WSD community outreach specialists stand ready to help consumers keep their water flowing.

ACT NOW if you are at risk of losing water services. We urge you to contact OPC before your water is turned off.

According to DC Water, there are nine federal and local programs totaling several million dollars that can provide financial assistance to eligible customers earning a range of incomes. Some programs provide emergency relief and others offer ongoing discounts.

The new Multifamily Assistance Program now provides tenants and property owners of condo and apartment units money to help pay water bills. Information about the different programs and how to set up a payment plan is available at dcwater.com/cares.

Call OPC’s Water Services Division at (202) 727-3071 so that we can help you navigate the process to get you the assistance you need.

In case you missed OPC’s community conversation on October 16, have no fear, you can watch it here! Check out the lively discussion on critical climate and environmental issues by respected local and national experts. OPC’s goal is to educate and empower consumers to understand efforts by the DC government and by other stakeholders to foster a cleaner, sustainable, and equitable environment. This will enable consumers to have an active role in the shaping of an equitable and sustainable environment for all District residents. Consumer voices must be a part of the dialogue and OPC will work hard to continue the conversation. Send us your feedback at info@opc-dc.gov.

Did you know that the Department of Energy and Environment has a program which helps building owners make their properties more energy efficient and meet the District’s clean energy and climate goals? Well, yes, and their programs will go a long way in helping the District meet its climate change goals.

The following article was contributed by DOEE’s Energy Administration.

In the past month, DOEE published two groundbreaking final rulemakings, demonstrating the District’s deep commitment to drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions in its existing building stock. On November 5, the Final Rulemaking for Application of the Building Energy Performance Standards (BEPS) for Privately-Owned and District-Owned Buildings was published in the DC Register and outlines the compliance details for the BEPS program. In conjunction with this rulemaking, DOEE also has released an alpha version (first version) of its BEPS Online Portal, which will be the central access point for building owners to determine their BEPS status, receive compliance assistance, and submit documentation required by the program. Building owners can request access to the Portal from the DOEE website.

On October 22, notice was published in the DC Register for the Final Rulemaking for Energy Performance Benchmarking of Privately-Owned Buildings. This rulemaking implements several updates to the District’s existing energy benchmarking rules based on changes to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Portfolio Manager program, new legislative mandates, and general clarification of existing requirements. See DOEE’s website here for more details.

For any questions on the BEPS program or how it affects the properties that you live/work in, please reach out to DOEE here.

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 and ET2021-02: Pepco’s Request for Approval of the House of Worship and Non-Profit Customer Credit Tariff, P.S.C. D.C. No 1

On October 25, OPC filed Comments with the PSC on Pepco’s Notice of the Proposed Tariff.

Consumer Complaint No. 9075256: Aneesa Salaam v. Washington Gas Light Company

October 29, OPC filed a Petition with the PSC for a Review of the Hearing Officer’s August 2 order. OPC argued on the grounds of safety issues and WGL Tariff Obligations.

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

On November 18, OPC filed in the DC Court of Appeals a Response to the Order for Show Cause. The Court requested OPC to show reason for its jurisdiction to hear an appeal of PSC Order No. 20755.

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.