The OPC CONNECTION – September 2019
A Note from Your People’s Counsel
Connecting the Dots
On September 24, the Office of the People’s Counsel welcomed representatives of numerous District government agencies, DC Council offices, nonprofits, and academic and faith-based institutions to the 10th Annual Social Services Summit. The setting was the historic Charles Sumner School Museum and Archives. The building was one of the first public elementary schools educating African American children in Washington, DC. It’s named after U.S. Senator Charles Sumner, an 19th century abolitionist.
OPC holds the summit each year to give like-minded consumer and social service advocates an opportunity to showcase their programs and outreach activities. The sharing bolsters relationships that help OPC and partners better serve utility consumers.
This year’s summit offered participants a couple of unique presentations. Both were designed to raise awareness about the dayto- day realities of living in poverty. Dr. Elvin Ramos of the University of the District of Columbia Community College led a “Community Action Poverty Simulation,” a role-playing exercise with participants living in the shoes of a low-income family.
Troye Bullock, Jr., told his story of rising from poverty and homelessness to co-found GoodProjects. It’s an organization that strives to move District families toward self-sufficiency.
Bullock stated that GoodProjects was born out of a chance meeting with two conservative national figures in a restaurant near Georgetown University where Bullock was attending on a football scholarship. That connection led to remarkable opportunities to help build his nonprofit, including more than $1 million from philanthropists such as Bill Gates and the Ford Foundation.
Both presenters skillfully connected the dots to show how collaborative efforts can help advocates holistically respond to utility consumers’ needs, particularly low-income and underserved constituents. You can see videos of the enlightening presentations on OPC’s Facebook page.
People’s Counsel thanks keynote speaker Troye Bullock, Jr. for his presentation.
Dr. Elvin Ramos guides OPC staff in the “Poverty Simulation” exercise.
These senior advocates with OPC’s Valca Valentine (center) were among the participants at the Social Services Summit, who serve various age groups and communities.
OPC continues to receive a number of calls from consumers expressing concerns that Verizon Washington representatives have insisted that they must switch from their copper landline telephone lines to fiber optic cable. OPC reminds consumers that the DC Public Service Commission issued a decision In Formal Case 1102 that Verizon must repair a consumer’s copper service when requested. As a result of that decision, a consumer cannot be forced to switch from traditional copper to fiber optic cable.
If you have been contacted by Verizon about removal of your copper phone lines and you want to retain that service, or if your copper line was removed without your consent, please contact OPC at info@opcdc. gov, or talk with a Consumer Outreach Specialist at (202) 727- 3071.
Transmission lines are critical for bringing electricity generated throughout our region into the homes and businesses of DC ratepayers. Unfortunately, the cost to consumers for moving electricity is going up as new transmission facilities are being built. OPC has been actively working to ensure that transmission planning is done in a transparent and cost-effective way.
How do we ensure that the right transmission projects are built? How do we maximize the use of cost-effective and competitive projects while still safeguarding system reliability? How do we make sure the voices of consumer advocates like OPC are effectively heard in the planning process? For the past eight months, members of regional grid operator PJM Interconnection, like DC OPC, have been wrestling with those issues. In August, PJM members overwhelmingly approved a package of reforms championed by OPC that increase transparency; ensure access for competitive, and often less expensive, transmission projects; and clarify the important role states have in approving the best projects for their ratepayers.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently considered reforms to the incentives given to transmission owners and developers. OPC joined a national coalition of public power entities, cities, industrial consumers and retail consumer advocates urging FERC to keep in mind the substantial transmission cost increases borne by customers. In particular, OPC does not believe transmission owners and developers should be rewarded simply for good behavior, but instead, any incentives should be limited in scope and duration. In addition, the “risks and challenges” of a specific project should be considered.
OPC recognizes the importance of building and maintaining a robust transmission grid, especially as we foster a clean energy future. However, that need should be coupled with a desire to build transmission projects in a transparent, cost-effective and competitive process that minimizes harm to consumers.
“All Things Local” is a podcast on D.C. Public Library Radio, which airs stories about what’s happening in the library system and about people, places and things in the District of Columbia. On September 17, the spotlight was on People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye.
Host Olubunmi Bakare (pictured) talked with the People’s Counsel not only about OPC’s work on behalf of consumers, she also delved into Mattavous-Frye’s life before OPC. Listen on the links to learn some things about the People’s Counsel you probably did not know. Web: https://bit.ly/2kOARNd; Apple Podcasts: https://apple.co/2kknWlS The
Measuring the Meter
Have you ever opened your water bill and jumped out of your seat because it’s way too high? Rising water bills have become a reality for many DC Water customers. But it does not mean the bill is always correct.
For example, Alison Kim reached out to OPC’s Water Services Division seeking help after receiving a four-figure water bill for just one month. The Ward 4 resident had contacted DC Water directly to dispute the bill through an administrative hearing process. However, Kim says she received no information from DC Water on the hearing process, so she decided to ask OPC for help.
After investigating, OPC discovered irregularities in how consumption was measured, due to a faulty water meter. OPC contacted DC Water on Ms. Kim’s behalf with our findings. As a result, DC Water informed Kim that a credit would be placed on her account, bringing her balance back to its normal range.
In thanking OPC for advocating for her, Kim stated that she believes the outcome would not have been positive without OPC’s intervention.
If you think your water bill is unusually high, contact DC Water. If you are not satisfied with the water authority’s response, call our new Water Services Division at (202) 727-3071 to see if OPC Can Help.
Staying the Course to Assist Consumers
In October 2018, Senior Consumer Outreach Specialist Linda Jefferson received a call from a consumer whose Washington Gas (WGL) service had been disconnected. A series of employment difficulties led to delays in her paying monthly payments. As her payment problems increased throughout the year, the consumer requested several times that WGL shut the service off.
Jefferson and Consumer Services Supervisor Laurence Jones continued negotiations to get service restored. Service restoration negotiations intensified as Litigation Services Director Laurence Daniels engaged WGL attorneys in the discussions. During this time, the consumer was forced to endure winter with only space heaters for warmth.
OPC staff continued to negotiate with WGL on the consumer’s behalf for some 10 months. In August 2019, after receiving a partial payment from the consumer, WGL offered payment arrangements and natural gas service was cut back on.
The consumer applauded OPC’s attention to her concerns:
I would like to thank you for all you did pertaining to my case. This is the happiest day of my Life to know that I will not have to go through another winter without heat and use of my stove for cooking. Again, Thank you, Thank you!”
Ward Four Resident (name withheld for privacy) This case demonstrates that OPC is resolute in its commitment to bringing consumer cases to a favorable closure. If you are facing disconnection, calll contact us to learn how OPC Can Help!
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1142: The Merger Application of AltaGas Ltd. and WGL Holdings, Inc.
On August 21, OPC filed Initial Comments on the PROJECTpipes Cost Benefit Analysis. OPC raised three concerns to the Commission. First, the CBA was intended to be filed publicly, but the expansive redactions in the public document deprive the public of the opportunity meaningfully to review the results of the analysis. Second, although the District’s environmental and greenhouse gas laws and policies will impact the costs and benefits of the PROJECTpipes program, the CBA does not account for these considerations. Third, all of the scenarios examined under the CBA are longer than the 30-year project acceleration time-frame that was contemplated in the development of the merger terms.
Formal Case No. 1153: The Petition of Pepco for an Investigation to Determine the Jurisdiction of the PSC to Regulate the Distribution of Electricity of Retail Customers of The Parks at Walter Reed
On September 5, OPC filed a Notice of Non-Opposition in Response to Pepco’s Notice of Withdrawal of Petition, Settlement Agreement and Motion. On September 16, OPC filed a Notice of Withdrawal in this case. Given that the Commission’s Order No. 20219 accepts Pepco’s Notice of Withdrawal and closes Formal Case No. 1153, at this time OPC withdraws its filings in this matter.
Formal Case No. 1144: Pepco’s Notice to Construct Two 230kV Underground Circuits from the Takoma Substation to the Rebuilt Harvard Substation and from the Rebuilt Harvard Substation to the Rebuilt Champlain Substation (Capital Grid Project)
On September 9, OPC filed an Application for Reconsideration of Order No. 20203. The Order authorizes Pepco to proceed with Phase I of the Capital Grid Project. OPC submits that the Commission should: (1) grant reconsideration of Order No. 20203; (2) find that the Phase I project has not been shown to be needed or just and reasonable; (3) order that Pepco suspend any construction of any Capital Grid Project until the entire project has been shown to be just and reasonable based on substantial record evidence; and (4) order those additional procedures necessary to ensure that due process rights of all parties to this proceeding are protected.
Formal Case No. 1130: The Investigation into Modernizing the Energy Delivery Sytem for Increased Sustainability
On September 16, OPC filed Initial Comments in support of the MEDSIS Working Group Report.
Formal Case No. 1156: Pepco’s Application to Implement a Multiyear Rate Plan for Electric Distribution Service
On September 12, OPC filed a Motion to Compel Pepco to OPC’s Request for Information in the Pepco Rate Case. OPC argued that as the statutory advocate for District consumers and ratepayers, it has the right to obtain from Pepco all information and documents reasonably relevant and material to this proceeding, and OPC’s statutory authorization “establishes a presumption in favor of disclosure to OPC of all materials that are relevant and material to a Commission investigation and that the burden of justifying any restriction on disclosure of relevant, and material information rests with the utility.”
OPC’s Barbara Burton in red hat walks with the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs in the Fiesta DC Parade in observance of Hispanic Heritage Month.
OPC staff joins DC Environmental Network for a discussion about Pepco’s mutiyear rate hike request, OPC’s new advocacy for DC Water consumers and environmental/sustainability issues.
Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, OPC’s Silvia Garrick, Jackie Reyes- Yanes of the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs and Mirna Valle of Neighbors’ Consejos at Vida Senior Centers’ health fair.
Nixon-Peabody Attorney Jeff Lesk gives People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye and staff a tour of the law firm’s rooftop solar, the 1st and largest commercial, community solar project in downtown DC, providing electric bill energy credits to low-income consumers.
OPC’s Cheryl Morse tells visitors to our pop-up park at 14th & U Streets NW how OPC Can Help utility consumers. OPC set up here and on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE for “PARKing Day,” an international event to promote open space, sustainability and community engagement in curbside street spaces.
OPC will be out at the following events:
Department of Energy and Environment Energy Efficiency Day
Location:2000 Channing Street NE
Date:Wednesday October 2nd
Time:1:00 PM – 5:00 PM
Capital Harvest Farmer’s Market
Location:1300 Pennsylvania Ave NW (Reagan Building)
Date:Friday October 4th
Time:11:00 AM – 3:00 PM
James Creek Energy Efficiency Workshop
Location:100 N Street SW
Date:Thursday October 10th
Time:3:00 PM – 5:00 PM