A Note from Your People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye
What's Ahead for Looming Utility Service Shutoffs?
July 25 was a date that many residents were focused on since it was the day when the public health emergency that had been in effect since COVID-19 hit was due to expire and start the clock ticking on the lifting of moratoriums on utility disconnections. While Mayor Muriel Bowser did end the public health emergency on that day, she extended the public emergency in order to retain authority to address COVID-19, including receiving federal relief funds and establishing mask and vaccine requirements as needed.
What does that mean for consumers facing disconnections when moratoriums are lifted? For that answer, I'll highlight the latest DC Council emergency legislation. On July 13, the Council approved legislation allowing utility companies to begin shutting off gas, electric, water, and telephone services onOctober 12 for residents who owe more than $600, but utilities mu st 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. Low-income residents who receive or have applied for various forms of public assistance such as STAY DC, LIHEAP, Lifeline, or Medicaid are protected from shutoffs for an additional 90 days. The emergency bill, which Mayor Bowser has signed, also contains protections for tenants facing evictions. See the legislation here.
It's long been OPC's practice to negotiate with the utilities to put consumers struggling to keep up with bills on payment plans. This role is cited in the new Council legislation.
As the city rebounds from the pandemic, we know that many residents are still in need of financial assistance to catch up with expenses that fell behind. OPC is here to help. And we continue to strongly encourage all eligible households to take advantage of the STAY DC rental and utility assistance program.
On July 8, OPC filled an application asking the Public Service Commission to reconsider its decision giving Pepco the green light to implement a Modified Enhanced Multiyear Rate Plan (EMRP).
OPC insists the approval is not based on facts in the record and the Commission fails to provide a well-reasoned explanation for approving Pepco's proposal. Calling the PSC's order a “setback” for regulation in the District of Columbia, People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye explains the EMRP imposes a significantly different method of ratemaking that provides less regulatory oversight of future rate increases, effectively shifts risks onto consumers, does not address the District’s climate agenda, and ignores the positions of the other parties and the voices of the community. Both sectors opposed a rate increase in the midst of a pandemic with many consumers still struggling financially.
The People's Counsel urges consumers to contact the Commission ASAP and request the PSC change its order to reject the Modified EMRP, address the city’s climate agenda and ensure that any rate increase is just and reasonable
Upon OPC’s review of the PSC’s order on reconsideration, which is expected to be issued this summer, if the Office determines that the Commission did not sufficiently address the legal errors, OPC can appeal the case to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
OPC recently responded to the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Request for Information about the impact of integrating electric vehicles (EV) into the nation’s power grids. OPC's comments emphasize that federal research, funding, policies, and programs should work to ensure that EV grid integration is equitable, just, affordable, reliable for consumers, and implemented in a manner that most cost-effectively meets federal and local greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals.
DC consumers have a strong interest in equitable, just, and affordable EV expansion to improve air quality, and in the electrification of transportation to reduce air pollution. Transportation is a significant contributor to the District’s GHG emissions. While air quality in the District has improved over the last several decades, many residents still face disproportionate exposure and health risks because of where they live or work. In the District, these populations are often predominately Black, Brown, and Non-White residents. OPC calls on DOE to recognize the need to integrate equity analysis into its research planning and to center research questions on the needs of disadvantaged communities. Justice in EV grid integration should focus on the specific technology needs of residents of low-and-moderate-income housing, prioritizing EV-based public transit, taxis and ridesharing.
OPC's comments also highlight the need to consider the appropriate role of utilities, such as Pepco, in electric vehicle services.
See OPC's entire comments here.
OPC is on the frontlines advocating against hazards harmful to the health of DC consumers. Lead and copper are known poisons. These materials are among the primary sources for residential and commercial water supply. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that lead can cause damage to brain, red blood cells, and kidneys, especially for young children and expectant mothers. Copper exposure can cause stomach and intestinal distress, liver, or kidney damage, as well as diseases that can require liver transplants, according to the EPA.
Affordability for lead pipe replacement, equity protections for vulnerable populations and enhanced stakeholder and consumer engagement are among the issues OPC Assistant People’s Counsel Grace Soderberg (pictured, bottom row) discussed at a recent EPA Lead and Copper Rule Revisions Community Roundtable.
While state and local governments began to prohibit installation of lead pipes in the early 20th century, lead pipes and fixtures continued to be used. Some alternative pipe materials include iron, copper and plastics.
“The District's more than 20,000 lead service lines must be removed as there is no level of lead exposure that is safe and the harmful health effects are irreparable,” said Attorney Soderberg. Moreover, equity must be a part of a process to identify vulnerable populations, such as schools, daycares, and recreation centers, as well as low-income communities at increased risk to lead exposure.
OPC supports increased stakeholder engagement and consumer outreach to address the knowledge gap. OPC is primed to play a key role in engaging consumers by partnering with stakeholders to educate DC residents about the risks, the opportunity to have lead lines removed, and the funding available for line replacement.
OPC will be filing written comments on the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions. You can view the June 25 EPA roundtable here.
Act Now to Prepare for Hurricane Season!
Hurricanes are not just a coastal problem. Hurricanes and tornadoes often hit far inland. Although July’s Tropical Storm Elsa had minimal impact in the District of Columbia, some homes experienced damage resulting from rain, wind, and flooding. Elsa is the earliest-known, 5th named storm on record for the Atlantic basin in the satellite era (1966-present), breaking the record formerly held by Edouard on July 6, 2020.
The Atlantic hurricane season officially runs from June 1 to November 30. Forecasters are expecting above-normal hurricane activity this season. Peak hurricane activity is usually between August and October.
DC’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (HSEMA) leads the planning and coordination efforts to ensure that the District is prepared for severe weather. HSEMA is a resource for:
- Information about emergency evacuations. There are 19 evacuation routes out of the city. Look for marked signs or find a route based on your location.
- AlertDC, the District’s emergency notification system. Residents and visitors can sign up to receive alerts via email or text message. Tune in to DC Cable Channels 13, 16, or local news to also receive updates.
Following are a few tips to help you get ready:
- Make an emergency plan
- Know your evacuation route
- Recognize warnings and alerts
- Collect insurance policies, identification, and other important documents
- Declutter drains, gutters and other protective supports
- Charge phones and purchase backup charging devices
OPC's Climate Division wants you to know about initiatives designed to address climate change. The District has been a national leader in reducing local greenhouse gas emissions, the pollution that causes climate change, by setting ambitious greenhouse gas reduction targets and then reducing emissions to meet these targets. Eight DC Councilmembers recently introduced the Climate Commitment Act of 2021, a proposed next step in defining the District’s greenhouse gas reduction targets.
This legislation would codify the District’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050 and add interim targets for greenhouse gas reductions between 2025 and 2050. The measure also would require the District to achieve carbon neutrality for emissions associated with District government operations by 2040, and prepare an inter-agency action plan for achieving this goal. It would require the Department of Energy and Environment to report annually on the District’s progress toward these targets.
OPC is closely monitoring the legislation as part of our efforts to ensure the District meets its ambitious climate change goals in a just, equitable, affordable, and resilient manner.
OPC, along with consumer advocates from Delaware and Maryland and the Sierra Club, successfully challenged an aspect of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) approval of grid operator PJM Interconnection, LLC’s capacity market design. PJM is the regional transmission organization that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity to the District and 13 states before Pepco and other utilities distribute it to customers.
In Delaware Division of the Public Advocate v FERC, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia found that FERC did not provide adequate justification for approving a 10% energy adder in PJM’s capacity market. A capacity market is a forward energy market designed to ensure that there will be enough generation three years into the future and the energy adder provided for an assumed universal 10% increase in available generation resources, regardless of whether the resource actually used the adder. OPC and others challenged the universal application of the adder and the appeals court found FERC dismissed our concerns with “little more than a hand wave,” and ordered FERC to reconsider its use. Removal of this component from PJM’s capacity market design will result in more accurate, equitable, and lower prices for consumers. While this is a small victory, it sets a course in the right direction.
Unfortunately, the appeals court did not agree with OPC with respect to PJM’s choice of a capacity market reference resource, which helps measure the likely cost of additional generation to meet electricity demand. PJM has employed a combustion turbine natural gas plant as its reference resource, instead of acheaper, more widely commercially-used plant. However, with the next review of this aspect of PJM’s capacity market this summer, OPC will again have the opportunity to encourage PJM to develop the most cost-efficient market design possible.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1167: Implementation of Electric and Natural Gas Climate Change Proposal
In Order No. 20754, the Commission directed Washington Gas Light Company and Pepco to file “Climate Business Plans.” The Commission also invited stakeholders that seek to file a study regarding the effects of electrification on the electric grid in the District of Columbia to inform the Commission when their filings will be made.
On July 6, OPC filed a letter with the PSC declaring its intent to file an Electrification Study. In addition, OPC filed a Joint Motion of Clarification of Order No. 20754, to request the PSC clarify certain statements in the Order regarding the utilities’ role in advancing the deployment of distributed energy resources in the District to ensure that the Order is unambiguous and does not violate District law.
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.
PEPACR-2021-E: Pepco's Annual Consolidated Report
On July 16, OPC filed Comments on Pepco’s 2021 Annual Consolidated Report, wherein OPC notes several areas where Pepco needs to provide additional information. They include: a clearer explanation of methodologies used in load forecasting, factors leading to increases in certain types of outages, and budget variances regarding a number of planned construction projects.
OPC Consumer Outreach Specialist Cheryl Morse hands out “purple power” bags stuffed with information on how OPC assists consumers and where they can find help to pay utility bills during the Metropolitan Police Department's "Beat the Streets" event at the DC Wharf.
People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye shares career tips with high school students in an internship program as part of a collaboration with the DC Office of the Tenant Advocate, the Alvaina Foundation, and the city's summer youth employment program.
Representatives of community and government agencies attend the 3rdSocial Services Virtual Discussion and Networking Meeting, which focused on the STAY DC utility and rent assistance program. See article above.