A Note from Your People's Counsel
It’s Complicated… But Let us Break it all Down
As OPC begins a New Year of advocating, educating and protecting DC utility consumers, we are digging deep into two proposals filed by Pepco and Washington Gas Light (WGL) to raise your utility rates. And we believe it’s important to keep consumers abreast of the latest developments and steps we’ll be taking to ensure that your service remains safe and reliable, and that rates are affordable for all DC consumers.
On January 13, WGL filed an application requesting to increase rates and charges by $26 million. If approved, the average residential bill could increase by almost $13 per month beginning a year from now. OPC is currently analyzing WGL’s submission and will attend a status conference the Public Service Commission (PSC) has scheduled for March 3 on this matter. Shortly thereafter, the PSC will issue a procedural schedule to move the proceeding along.
OPC also wants to update Pepco ratepayers about recent action with the rate increase the electric company requested in May 2019. Pepco has filed an application to raise rates by $160 million over the next three years. As part of the request, Pepco seeks to change the traditional way it requests rate hikes on a case-by-case basis to a “multi-year rate plan.” Under this "alternative ratemaking design," rates would go up automatically each year during the proposed three-year plan.
In October, OPC participated in a technical conference to determine whether the proposed alternative rate design would benefit District consumers. On November 1, OPC filed comments urging the Commission to mandate that any new proposal guarantee tangible consumer benefits, advance the District's public policy and environmental goals, and results in safe, reliable and affordable utility service. On December 20, the Commission issued a policy order that establishes the framework for evaluating alternative ratemaking proposals. Included in that framework is a requirement that any utility requesting alternative ratemaking demonstrate that its proposal provides measurable benefits to ratepayers and advances or aligns with the District's goals. OPC will file testimony on Pepco’s proposal in February.
“When the opportunity arose to purchase a vehicle to get the staff of our new Water Services Division to community events, I thought it would be a good idea to choose a plug-in electric vehicle. As a zeroemission vehicle, this Chevrolet Bolt helps us meet the environmental goals of our new mandate to include climate change in our policies and practices," states People's Counsel Sandra MattavousFrye.” Carbon dioxide from gasoline and diesel engine emissions is a major factor in climate change. This vehicle allows OPC to eliminate an estimated 4.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, compared to a standard vehicle.
“This is good for the District’s environment and allows OPC staff to learn the realities of energy-saving first hand, even as we work to help consumers make their own renewable energy choices."
People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye familiarizes herself with OPC’s new electric vehicle with the help of Water Services Division Manager Chandler Crumlin.
Pepco is undertaking a massive construction project called Capital Grid to upgrade and fortify the infrastructure that helps deliver electricity to residential and other customers in the District. OPC has raised several concerns about the project and continues to question whether it’s in the public interest.
On January 21, OPC filed an application requesting the Public Service Commission reconsider its December 20, 2019 order which authorized Pepco to proceed to build the Mt. Vernon Substation in Phase II of the Capital Grid Project. The multi-year project is expected to cost ratepayers about $850 million. OPC seeks reconsideration of the Commission’s order giving Pepco the green light for several reasons: the Commission (1) accepted Pepco’s inaccurate forecasts of future demand for electricity on Pepco’s system to justify the need for the Mt. Vernon Substation; (2) found that non-wires alternatives, such as distributed energy resources like solar, and energy efficiency cannot lead to the deferral of the Mt. Vernon Substation; (3) the Commission rejected cost-effective, traditional utility alternatives to the Capital Grid Project, such as load shifting and utilizing excess capacity at neighboring substations; and (4) rejected OPC’s request for additional procedures.
The Commission approved Phase I of Capital Grid in August 2019.
OPC will keep consumers up-to-date on any key developments, as Pepco ratepayers will bear the burden of Capital Grid costs.
OPC’s Water Services Division (WSD) is ready to help DC Water consumers with billing disputes. Here is an example of our success in serving water ratepayers.
Laura Gross, a Ward 2 property owner, reached out to OPC seeking assistance with a dispute with DC Water over unusually high water bills totaling approximately $2,600 for a fivemonth period in 2018. The consumer was scratching her head, trying to figure out why the bills were so high as she had done numerous checks for any water leaks.
Ms. Gross says she made numerous calls to DC Water to get a resolution to no avail, so she contacted OPC for help. OPC staff immediately met with Ms. Gross and assisted her with the process for disputing the bills with DC Water. In August 2019, OPC Attorney Grace Soderberg, along with our Community Outreach Specialist Rusheeda Boyd, and WSD Manager Chandler Crumlin (seen with Ms. Gross above) represented her in a formal DC Water administrative hearing. The hearing officer ruled in Ms. Gross' favor. OPC continued to champion for Ms. Gross and despite numerous DC Water appeals, we won the case on January 7, and DC Water made the appropriate adjustment to her account.
Ms. Gross praised OPC’s WSD staff:
“They supported me and walked me through every step of the way. They continue to reach out to keep me informed and ask questions about the situation…I couldn’t be happier with the help I received.”
OPC translates numerous documents in six languages to assist nonEnglish-speaking consumers. They include: “Tome El Control/Take Command,” to help Spanish readers/speakers learn about their rights as utility consumers. Hard copies of the brochure are available for social service agencies and community groups or click on the cover to download.
OPC thanks all the public witnesses who praised OPC’s advocacy at our DC Council fiscal year 2019 oversight hearing on January 22. See some of the comments below. Hear their testimony and watch OPC’s full hearing here beginning at 2:20:45.
"I praise the Office of the People's Counsel for their assistance, patience, and knowledge."
"OPC is a tremendous resource and does an excellent job representing the District's residential ratepayers."
"OPC has provided ratepayers with important information on such things as third party suppliers, clean energy alternatives, scams, and energy efficiency.
"Without OPC's guidance, member churches would have had to navigate resolving their utility issues alone."
Did You Know?
Many will tell you that one of the most important departments within any organization is that of human resources. Among other responsibilities, human resources staff oversee the recruiting and hiring of new staff; and serve as a link between management and employees. At OPC, that link rests in the responsible hands of Cecilia JonesWalker, OPC’s Human Resources Specialist. In just her first year, Cecilia has helped to fine-tune OPC’s HR structure and ensure continued compliance with the District government’s HR rules and regulations.
The native Washingtonian was raised in Fort Washington, Maryland. Cecilia received a bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from the University of Phoenix. What followed was almost a decade of human resources experience, including with the DC Department of Human Resources.
When not handling the humans at OPC, Cecilia says she loves to shop online, binge-watch Netflix and Hulu movies (she confesses to be a crier, especially over love stories); and loves hosting dinner parties for family and friends. One of her specialties is pancakes! And has even shared her pancake-cooking skills with staff.
With her first year at OPC now behind her, fellow employees are saying they are “positively flipping over Cecilia,” and all she is doing to help the humans here.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1159: Pepco’s Application for Approval of the Second Biennial Underground Infrastructure Improvement Plan
On December 10, OPC filed comments in this matter and provided recommendations regarding limited concerns with certain technical aspects of the Second Biennial Plan.
Formal Case No. 1161: Application for Authorization of Issuance of Debt Security
In October 2019, Pepco filed an application for authorization to issue up to $1.2 billion of long-term secured or unsecured debt securities over a three-year period.
On December 16, OPC filled Comments on Pepco’s Application for Authorization of Issuance of Debt Security wherein it recommended the Commission direct Pepco to provide additional support for its Debt Application.
On December 18, OPC filed a Request for Leave to Reply to Pepco’s Response to Comments. OPC requests that the Commission accept the limited comments provided herein as they clarify important issues for the record.
Formal Case No. 1157: The Investigation into Washington Gas Light Company’s Compliance with the Recommendations of the National Transportation Board
On December 20, OPC Filed a Revised Response to the Washington Gas Implementation Plan to Address the National Transportation Safety Board’s Recommendations. OPC requested that the Commission reject WGL’s Implementation Plan as deficient, as it lacks sufficient information regarding how it intends to comply with the recommendations related to meter safety adopted by the NTSB in the wake of the 2016 fatal gas explosion in Silver Spring, MD.
At OPC’s DC Council oversight hearing, Deputy People’s Counsel Karen Sistrunk looks on as People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye states: “I am proud to report we have successfully charted new ground, executed new innovative initiatives, zealously advocated for policies that will facilitate the District’s ambitious sustainability and climate changes goals, and taken steps to ensure consumers are informed.” Read her full testimony here.
At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds and People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye congratulate OPC Senior Consumer Education Specialist Linda Jefferson (center), who received a “Community Cornerstone Award” from the Councilmember for her service to senior and low-income DC residents.
La Oficina de Asesoria Legal Pública/OPC Hispanic Coordinator Silvia Garrick, 4th from right, joins community partners at the Hispanic Leadership Health Symposium, sponsored by DC Health Link, the Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs, Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and others. Silvia discussed how OPC can help limited and non-English speaking consumers with utility concerns.
Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd and his staff receive an OPC briefing on the pressing utility issues and consumer trends in his ward.
All eyes on this interactive wall in the OPC Energy Affordability Lab. Visitors to the “Smart Home” learn about smart technologies, energy efficiency and saving money on utility bills. Check out the Lab’s interactive webpage.