A Note from Your People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye
Serving Successfully through the Storm
As the closing days of 2020 are upon us, no one can deny that this was a year like no other. The COVID-19 pandemic impacted not just the health, safety, and livelihood of DC residents but also the way we serve utility consumers.
I am proud of how OPC staff adapted during the difficult times. When the public health emergency was declared in March, staff seamlessly moved to remote work, ensuring timely and efficient responses to the inquiries of utility consumers facing hardship.
Over the subsequent 10 months, dedicated outreach specialists in the Consumer and Water Services Divisions kept up a steady pace of community engagements, attending dozens of virtual meetings of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, civic associations, and stakeholder organizations.
OPC’s expert attorneys immersed themselves into complicated Pepco and Washington Gas rate cases to press for the best outcomes possible, knowing that this is not the time to hit jobless ratepayers with huge rate increases.
I am grateful for the many consumers who raised their voices at community hearings and loudly decried utility company plans. Those voices also were heard just days ago when they joined OPC in making lawmakers understand why this is not the time to lift the moratoriums on utility disconnections. I look forward to working with Councilmembers and lay advocates to find solutions that will enable consumers to pay their utility bills and maintain their service.
We are hopeful that the availability of coronavirus vaccines and personal vigilance in wearing masks, social distancing and hand hygiene will move us back to some form of normal life in 2021. In the meantime, OPC will continue to do all we can to ensure the delivery of safe and reliable unity service at just and reasonable rates, as it makes life better for District families and individuals.
On behalf of all of us at OPC, wishing you Happy Holidays and a Happier New Year!
OPC’s zealous advocacy has led to a settlement agreement in the Washington Gas rate increase case that we believe will benefit ratepayers during these dire economic times.
On December 8, OPC, the Apartment and Office Building Association, the DC Government, General Services Administration, Baltimore-Washington Construction and Public Employees Laborers’ District Council, and Washington Gas Light filed a non-unanimous settlement with the Public Service Commission. If approved by the Commission, the settlement will resolve the rate increase application Washington Gas filed almost a year ago.
OPC’s win for consumers reduces Washington Gas’s proposed rate increase of more than $35 million by nearly half, and Washington Gas will not be allowed to earn any additional return on equity (the allowable percentage of profit) beyond its current return of 9.25%. Washington Gas will not be able to seek another rate increase until August of 2021, giving ratepayers breathing room to weather the COVID-19 crisis. In addition, OPC negotiated for the removal of WGL’s proposal to introduce a mechanism which sought to unfairly shift business risk from WGL to ratepayers, and would have allowed WGL to recover lost revenues resulting from drops in gas sales tied to energy efficiency or warmer winter weather.
OPC also partnered with the District Government to advocate for a 100% Residential Essential Services distribution charge credit for eligible ratepayers, extending the current RES discount on the heating bills of low-income residents. The settlement also takes a step in the right direction on the District’s climate goals, pushing for WGL to report its greenhouse gas emissions.
OPC will continue to vigorously hold the District’s utilities to their obligation to provide safe and reliable service at just and reasonable rates, while holding them to task on climate action.
OPC’s Response to COVID Emergency Includes Focus on Water Consumers
Since the onset of the public health emergency, OPC’s Water Services Division has been vigilant in ensuring services and protections continue to flow to DC Water consumers. WSD has been successful in advocating for expansion of relief programs to help ratepayers keep up with water and sewer bills during the pandemic.
Are you tapping into payment assistance programs?
If you are not tapping into payment assistance, OPCreminds households and organizations to take advantage of assistance right now, even though there is a moratorium on disconnections.
Emergency Residential Relief Program
DC Government authorized funding to provide emergency relief to District residents struggling with unpaid DC Water bills during the public health emergency and 105 days thereafter. Eligible households may receive up to $2,000 as a one-time emergency benefit. See information from the Department of Energy and Environment; and from DC Water.
Halt on liens, penalties, certain fees and deposit requirements
Nonprofit Relief Program provides eligible organizations with credits of up to 90% for water services and fees. The Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge Nonprofit Relief Program significantly reduces monthly CRIAC charges.
Serving People by Lending a Supporting Hand (SPLASH)
SPLASH is a DC Water program that helps customers maintain critical water and sewer service during financial emergencies. SPLASH is administered by the Greater Washington Urban League. Call the GWUL at (202) 427-4100 for more information
Pandemic fatigue may be setting in. But don't sleep on scammers who try to take advantage of utility consumers. As many folks are spending more time at home, scammers are in search of vulnerable people. OPC's consumer services staff have received an increased number of complaints about apparent utility scams targeting senior, low-income, and limited English-speaking residents. Consumers tell us these scams involve sales reps knocking on doors and impersonating utility workers; robotic phone calls offering consumers reduced utility rates and energy bill savings; and threats of service disconnection without immediate payment. Here are some tips to protect yourself:
- Beware of someone who says they are "from the electric or gas company." Utility companies do not go door-to-door to make rate offers and rarely visit your home unless there is a safety emergency.
- Scammers will ask for your account information or Social Security number. Do not provide any personal information to phone solicitors.
- Utility companies will never threaten disconnection if you don't make an immediate payment nor ask for payment with a convenience store gift card.
- Third party energy suppliers or TPS companies may offer energy services to households. However, some have deceptive or aggressive practices. Always request identification from any energy provider or utility worker.
If you believe you've been the victim of a scam or have questions about scams, TPS offers, utility services, rates, or utility construction in your neighborhood, contact OPC at (202) 727-3071 and ask for a consumer outreach specialist.
Sargent Memorial Presbyterian Church (above) hosts a 222 kw solar system installation facilitated by Groundswell.
"Keeping the Faith" in Solar
As 2020 draws to a close, we look back at OPC’s work with the Department of Energy and Environment’s Solar for All (SFA) program and Groundswell, a SFA grantee. Solar for All is facilitating the installation of no-cost solar on the rooftops of properties to benefit 100,000 low-income families, seniors, nonprofits and small businesses, with the resulting energy credits applied directly to reduce their utility bills.
Lenwood Coleman, Groundswell Chief Program Officer (top), recently joined People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye (lower left) and OPC’s Energy Efficiency Outreach Specialist Pamela Nelson (lower right) in a webinar on the status of several projects throughout the District of Columbia that have linked faith-based congregations with Groundswell's technical expertise and Solar for All resources to expand solar adoption .
Ms. Nelson took the initiative to connect faith-based institutions with Groundswell for the installation of solar on their roofs, plus HVAC updates and other energy saving applications through the DC Sustainable Energy Utility. One of the participating faith-based organizations has saved almost $4,000 in the first year. Also, 15 low-income households are receiving an annual energy bill credit of $6,202
Nonprofits and small businesses also are benefitting from the OPC-Solar for All-Groundswell partnership, and are in various stages of licensing, permitting and development. If your nonprofit, small business or faith-based organization wants to explore solar, contact Pamela Nelson at (202) 727-3071.
As the District and other jurisdictions in the region look to meet ambitious decarbonization targets, one of the key challenges will be how to best integrate carbon-free resources into the electric grid. Many renewable resources such as solar, wind, and hydroelectric power do not contribute to climate change. However, in the case of solar and wind generation, the amount of power they produce depends on weather conditions so their ability to meet customer demand is “variable.” Other resources, like storage, are limited in duration – they can operate anytime but only if they are “charged up.” Regional grid operator PJM, which transmits electricity from generators in remote locations to Pepco's system in our region, OPC and other stakeholders recently developed a methodology to better recognize these resources for the value they provide in meeting the region’s energy needs. Known as Effective Load Carrying Capability or ELCC, this technology-neutral, market-based approach supports the integration of carbon-free resources by leveling the playing field and allowing each resource to participate based on the value it brings to the table. ELCC also recognizes the “diversity benefit” of complementary resources like solar or wind paired with storage where the combined value of the resources exceeds their individual contribution.
The ELCC construct will increase participation of carbon-free resources in PJM’s markets, resulting in increased competition, lower costs, and the ability of the District to meet its de-carbonization goals in a reliable and cost-effective manner. OPC is hopeful the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will approve the PJM proposal before the end of the year.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
RM41-2020-02: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking RM41-2020-02 In the Matter of 15 DCMR Chapter 41-District of Columbia Standard Offer of Service Rules
On November 24, OPC filed comments responding to rules the Commission proposed to govern a pilot procurement of renewable energy for Standard Offer Service (SOS) supply through long-term power purchase agreements (PPA).
The proposed rules aim to facilitate the District’s achievement of its greenhouse gas reduction goals by targeting 5% of SOS supply—the electricity that is sold to District customers that do not choose an alternative energy supplier—to be procured through a long-term PPA for renewable energy
Given there is uncertainty surrounding the wholesale market rules, the Office requests that the Commission postpone finalizing this rulemaking to allow the PSC to ensure that the implementation of the rules and pilot program do not lead to increases in default SOS electricity rates passed on to ratepayers.
Formal Case No. 1156: Pepco's Application for Authority to Implement a Multiyear Rate Plan for Electric Distribution Service
On December 9, OPC filed its Initial Brief wherein it requests the Commission reject Pepco’s Original and Enhanced MRP proposals, and decide this case based on the traditional test year filing and in accordance with OPC’s recommendations as supported in the record and reviewed herein. Those include, but are not limited to, authorizing a base distribution rate increase of no more than $21,054,000 and implementing appropriate mitigation measures so that the immediate impact on consumers is deferred pending the end of the pandemic and a return to normalcy.
Meet Doxie McCoy
As the advocate for DC utility consumers, the Office of the People’s Counsel is committed to representing the public interests.
While that responsibility can be a challenge, it also can be a challenge to make sure consumers know they have an advocate in OPC. Enter, Doxie McCoy, OPC’s Public Information Officer (PIO). Doxie might come off at first as being soft spoken, however, she always has a way of knowing how to be heard, and more importantly knowing how to ensure consumers hear about OPC’s good work. As PIO, Doxie communicates with the news media and the public about OPC’s services and programs. She coordinates the production of publications, prepares the People’s Counsel for appearances, and oversees OPC’s website and presence on social media.
Before coming to OPC in 2016, Doxie performed similar duties as Communications Director for former Mayor (now Ward 7 Councilmember) Vincent C. Gray, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. The 5 th generation native Washingtonian graduated from Boston College, where she was a collegiate athlete and most notably the first black player (the goalie!) for the women’s ice hockey team. Doxie received a master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York and then set up shop in various newsrooms. She has been a news writer, producer and reporter for three local radio stations, three local TV stations; and even produced shows on Black Entertainment Television that won NAACP Image Awards.
When she is not posting messages on OPC’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram Doxie is performing community service--now virtually--as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., which she proudly states is the same sorority of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris. When the pandemic is over, Doxie says she is looking forward to getting back to dance parties, the movies, the gym, and the beach. For now, the next time you get a press release from OPC, see a tweet on @DCOPC, or hear the People’s Counsel on the radio, you will know who’s been hard at work!
During the COVID-19 crisis, OPC welcomes the opportunity to speak at your Advisory Neighborhood Commission, civic association or community group meeting. We can give updates on utility issues and tell how we are continuing to serve during the pandemic via telework. Call (202) 727-3071 if your group would like our staff to "zoom in."
The People's Counsel and staff at a "meet and greet" with Ward 4 Councilmember-Elect Janeese Lewis George to inform her how OPC assists Council constituent services offices.
OPC safely supports Metropolitan A.M.E. Church members at their food giveaway by providing bags for goods and enclosing information on how OPC is still serving consumers.
OPC hosts an intimate conversation withSeabury Resources for Aging to talk about services for seniors.