The OPC Connection - June 2021

A Note from Your People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye

Pepco Rate Plan Decision: Finding A Silver Lining in A Dark Cloud

Two years ago, Pepco filed an application with the Public Service Commission seeking a huge $162 million rate increase and a multiyear rate plan (MRP) that would significantly change the way electric distribution rates are set. While OPC was open to considering the adoption of an alternative form of ratemaking if changes would benefit consumers, the evidentiary record did not support Pepco’s proposal. And every other active party to the case agreed, and also recommended the Commission reject the plan. Unfortunately, on June 4, the PSC issued a disappointing decision approving a modified version of Pepco’s MRP and a $108.6 million rate hike over three years. The first set of increases is scheduled to go into effect on July 1.

After reviewing the PSC order, OPC still finds that the record does not support the Commission’s decision. As our mission is to ensure the rights of DC ratepayers are protected and rates are fair and affordable, OPC plans to file an application in two weeks requesting the Commission to reconsider its decision.  

The overall decision is problematic as it mischaracterizes facts and contains legal errors. Even with this dark cloud, however, there is a silver lining. Due to OPC’s steadfast advocacy protecting consumer rights, the PSC order includes significant victories for residents, supported by evidence OPC added to the record, including: a mandate that Pepco may not lower the amount of tax credits that it had agreed to return to customers as part of the last rate case settlement; the adoption of several of OPC’s proposals which contributed to reducing the size of the rate increase; a substantially lower authorized return on equity compared to what Pepco requested and what is even lower than the company's existing ROE; and a significant reduction in the portion of the rate increase that will be assigned to residential customers.

One of my guiding principles is ensuring that consumers have a seat at the table when policy makers decide important issues. This proceeding sparked numerous consumers to comment on Pepco’s proposal and we thank you for making your voice heard. OPC will keep you updated on any new developments.

OPC’s fiscal year 2022 budget oversight hearing took place on June 3 and June 7 before the DC Council Committee on Business and Economic Development. In discussing the proposed $11 million budget, OPC leadership noted that through the COVID-19 pandemic, staff members have reimagined and adapted our operations to serve consumers in a virtual world, particularly those struggling financially.

OPC’s fiscal year 2022 budget oversight hearing took place on June 3 and June 7 before the DC Council Committee on Business and Economic Development. In discussing the proposed $11 million budget, OPC leadership noted that through the COVID-19 pandemic, staff members have reimagined and adapted our operations to serve consumers in a virtual world, particularly those struggling financially.

The budget positions OPC’s Litigation, Consumer Services and Climate Divisions to meet anticipated demands as the District reopens. However, an expected surge in requests for utility bill payment assistance and complaints presents a particular challenge to OPC’s Water Services Division because it has been underfunded and understaffed since fiscal year 2019.

OPC remains concerned that the resources available in the FY 2022 budget will not allow us to fully discharge our mandate to serve DC Water consumers, particularly when the disconnection moratoria are lifted.

OPC Chief of Staff Eric Coard (left) and Chief Operating Officer Eric Scott present testimony on the budget on June 7.

Deputy People's Counsel Karen Sistrunk responds to questions from Committee Chairman, Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan R. McDuffie.

“We anticipate consumers will continue to face challenges with all utility services over the next year, as the utility and eviction moratoria are lifted. We must be able to assist consumers who have fallen behind in their accounts, which will require higher levels of customer care.” Still, “OPC will continue to work with the resources we have to provide the best service we can to all utility consumers.”

We thank the public witnesses who testified about “the great service OPC provides.” One consumer discussed his difficulty dealing with a utility. But on the other hand, “OPC staff was extremely generous with their time and incredibly supportive,” he said.

Fast forward 24:00 to see the June 3 hearing where public witnesses testified here. Fast forward 56:50 to see OPC’s leaders testify on June 7 on this link.

 

Reminder: If you need help paying utilities or rent, apply for STAY DC. The District will:

  • Pay unpaid rent going back to April 1, 2020
  • Pay forward rent, up to 3 months at a time
  • Pay for water, gas, and electricity expenses on your behalf

OPC encourages anyone who is struggling to pay their rent or utility bills to visit stay.dc.gov or call 833-4-STAYDC from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm, Monday through Friday.

In early June, OPC staff members attended the 2021 National Energy & Utility Affordability Coalition (NEUAC) Conference with the theme “Uniting for an Equitable Recovery.”

NEUAC is a broad-based coalition of diverse member organizations and individuals dedicated to heightening awareness of the energy needs of lowincome consumers. This year’s conference focused on how attendees and members can help ensure that individuals with a high energy burden are not left out of the economic recovery after the pandemic. Important sessions included a virtual poverty simulator, a celebration of 40 years of the LowIncome Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP), and energy efficiency best practices.

OPC Senior Economist, Dr. Yohannes Mariam, presented our Energy Affordability Study in a session entitled: “Trends in Persistent Energy Burden and Threats to a Widening Gap in Energy Poverty.”

When the weather is hot and humid, we rush to the pool, the riverbank, the bay, or the beach. We engage in water activities from swimming to kayaking to jet skiing.

OPC’s Water Services Division encourages you, your family, and friends to remember these safety tips to prevent tragedies.

  • In a pool or body of water, swim only in designated areas, supervised by lifeguards.
  • Do not rely on swimming devices such as innertubes to keep children afloat and the lifeguards to supervise them. Adults must keep a constantwatch over kids.
  • At the beach, pay attention to the flags on the lifeguard chair. The flags will signal rip tides, high surf, or other dangerous swimming conditions. If you get caught in a rip current, be sure to swim parallel to the shore until you reach a spot where the rip current does not continue to pull you.
  • Be aware of the weather. If you see or hear a storm coming, get out of the water and head inside.

OPC is always looking for new ways to connect with consumers. That's why we are increasing social and traditional media posts. For example, take a look at the new videos on the OPC

Channel. Click on the image above to see an example of how we are alerting consumers that "OPC Can Help!" And please follow @DCOPC on Twitter and Instagram and DCPeoplesCounsel on Facebook.

Arrelle Anderson

OPC welcomes our newest staff member, Associate Director Arrelle Anderson. She will serve as a bridgebetween the Consumer Services and Water Services Divisions as they develop and implement strategies to collectively foster community engagement. Arrelle also will oversee data management of the agency’s consumer complaint intake process, manage our relationships with external community stakeholders, and coordinate consumer conferences to raise awareness about OPC’s services.

Arrelle comes to OPC with more than 15 years of experience in local government in Washington, DC and Georgia and has an extensive background leading initiatives in organizational transformation, strategic planning, and project management. She highlights a couple of her greatest career achievements: being part of the strategic planning team that shaped and launched a new DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education; and rebranding DC Lottery scratch ticket games.

The Jersey City, New Jersey native is a graduate of Howard University and the University of Georgia, where she earned an M.B.A. in marketing/ entrepreneurship.

For fun, Arrelle enjoys water aerobics and reading with her nieces and goddaughters in a book club. She is a “beach bunny,” and heads to the water whenever she has a chance to get away.

With the District easing out of the pandemic, OPC is excited to have Arrelle onboard to help navigate our return to the worksite, enhance and expand our consumer engagement, and carry out the OPC mission to advocate, educate, and protect DC residents in all eight wards.

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

Formal Case No. 1142: The Merger Application of AltaGas & WGL Holdings

On behalf of the DC Government, US Department of Defense and all other federal executive agencies, on May 28, OPC filed a Joint Response to AltaGas’ Request for a Finding of Comparability Under Merger Condition No. 59 and Joint Request for the Commencement of a New Docket to Develop Cybersecurity Standards for Regulated Utilities in the District.

The joint parties requested the PSC to immediately open a new docket to review and integrate cyber protections and protocols for each utility. The parties recommend that new requirements be developed in-line with existing federal initiatives to set cyber standards and protocols for energy transmission systems, be nimble and responsive to changing needs, and require regular reporting and briefings to OPC, PSC, and the District and Federal Governments.

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

On June 24, OPC filed a Proposed Scope of Work for a Consultant for Utility Climate Plans. OPC proposes that retaining a consultant will aid the Commission in developing a comprehensive plan for the regulated utilities that will achieve the District’s climate goals.

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