The OPC CONNECTION - April 2018

 

A Note from Your People's Counsel

Solar power and other distributed energy resources are playing an increasingly important role in electricity systems across the United States and the District is no exception. That’s why I am pleased to announce that the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory has selected the Office of the People’s Counsel to participate in the Solar Energy Innovation Network. It’s a multi state initiative designed to explore new ways solar energy can improve the affordability, reliability, and resiliency of the nation’s electric grid. OPC will receive financial, analytical and facilitation support from the project; and it will help us identify cost effective ways to expand rooftop and community solar across the city.

The Solar Energy Innovation Network is led by the Clean Energy States Alliance (CESA), a national nonprofit coalition of public and private agencies working together to advance clean energy. OPC will collaborate with CESA, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Rhode Island, and Washington on research efforts to identify locations for distributed energy resources that provide benefits to the grid. The District’s team is one of nine selected nationwide to join the Network. ​

Every step we take toward building a clean and sustainable DC will create opportunities for our residents in all eight wards to access and benefit from affordable electricity.

In case you missed it, listen and learn about other ways OPC is serving DC consumers on my recent radio interview on WPFW FM.

The Office of the People’s Counsel has submitted written comments to the Public Service Commission on its Modernization of the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability (MEDSIS) Initiative. They express OPC’s continued commitment to working with the Commission to meet the challenge of developing a modernized energy distribution system in a cost-effective manner.

OPC’s comments follow the Commission’s issuance of its MEDSIS Vision Statement, which says: “The District of Columbia’s modern energy delivery system must be sustainable, well-planned, encourage distributed energy resources and preserve the financial health of the energy distribution utilities in a manner that results in an energy delivery system that is safe and reliable, secure, affordable, interactive and non-discriminatory.”

OPC’s states that the Office’s key goals are to: (1) cooperate in creating an effective grid modernizing plan that will strengthen the resiliency and reliability of the District’s energy delivery system; (2) allow optimal utilization of all viable distributed energy resource options such as solar and wind power; and (3) provide all District consumers access to the benefits of sustainable energy options. Further, the Office notes that this proceeding presents an opportunity for the Commission and stakeholders to develop the foundation for the delivery of sustainable energy in the District for generations to come.

​OPC was also successful in getting the PSC to transfer Pepco’s application for an electric vehicle (EV) charging program to the MEDSIS proceeding. OPC believes this will produce a more robust analysis of the EV proposal and draw maximum input from stakeholders. Pepco originally filed its proposal in a separate case.

In March 2018, the PSC issued a request for proposals for a consultant that will engage stakeholders to establish working groups and develop recommendations that will move the MEDSIS initiative forward.

In recent years, third party energy suppliers (TPS) have increased their marketing to electric and natural gas residential consumers in the District. Unfortunately, increased marketing has resulted in increased complaints against TPS companies. The complaints range from rude salespersons to dramatic increases in utility bills to companies switching a customer’s supplier without their permission. Seniors and low-income consumers are disproportionate victims of deceptive sales practices because of their particular need to lower bills to survive. In response to a flood of calls coming in to OPC, ​the Office has enhanced its TPS education and outreach efforts.

In March, OPC staff met with representatives of the Retail Energy Suppliers Association (RESA), a TPS trade association, to discuss OPC’s roles as the District’s utility consumer advocate and to learn how RESA represents its members. TPS company representatives from Just Energy, IGS Energy, NRG Energy, Constellation Energy, and Starion Energy also attended the meeting.

OPC outreach specialists provided an overview of TPS complaints and trends. They also expressed concerns about TPS commission salespersons using high pressure tactics; failing to explain variable and fixed rate contracts; targeting vulnerable neighborhoods; and companies providing poor customer services and sub-par products.

RESA officials noted that they would like to see procedures implemented in the District which are intended to reduce payment confusion and would enable TPSs to offer consumers more products and services.

The discussion with RESA follows individual meetings with TPS companies and the publication of OPC’s “A Consumer’s Guide to Third Party Suppliers."

OPC will continue dialogue with RESA and TPS companies to foster the fair marketing of energy choices to District consumers.

Mother Nature has been playing tricks on us, but warmer weather is upon us. If you’ve noticed a spike in your home energy bills this past winter, now is the time to make a few simple changes that can save you money no matter what the season.

  1. Check all the weather stripping around your home and repair any damage that may have been caused by the wintry weather. A large portion of your heating and cooling bills can be reduced by simply fixing drafts or leaks.
  2. Have your heating and cooling system checked by a professional to ensure that it is operating smoothly now before the hotter summer months arrive.
  3. Replace all old light bulbs with more energy efficient Energy-Star bulbs.
  4. Lower the thermostat on your water heater to account for the change in weather.
  5. Get a home energy audit by contacting the DC Sustainable Energy Utility at www.dcseu.com & to learn even more ways to help you save money this spring!

Former President Barack Obama once said, “Let us reject the impulse to harden ourselves to others’ suffering, and instead make a habit of empathy – of recognizing ourselves in each other and extending our compassion to help those in need.” At the Office of the People’s Counsel, that mantra embodies Senior Consumer Education Specialist Linda Jefferson’s commitment to serve those in need. Jefferson has worked tirelessly in our Consumer Services Division for 11 years.

Jefferson gives special attention to District ratepayers facing disconnection. Among other responsibilities, Linda helps consumers who have fallen behind on their utility bills to establish timed-payment arrangements (TPAs) so that they can avoid disconnection. By acting as a go-between, Jefferson communicates directly with utility representatives to try to get a sensible payment plan in place so that the consumer can afford to maintain their electric, natural gas or landline phone services. While OPC does not offer financial assistance, Jefferson goes the extra mile to connect consumers with social service agencies and nonprofits that do provide financial help.

Originally from the small town of Rich Square, North Carolina, Jefferson says she can trace her charitable heart and passion for helping others back to her upbringing as the only child of two loving parents who raised her in the church and taught her “to treat others as you would like to be treated.” Jefferson is a proud member of Metropolitan AME Church—the National Cathedral of African Methodism. When she is not serving there, she admits to being a self-proclaimed homebody who likes to spend time with her family and friends watching movies and dining together. The Ward 5 resident is OPC’s outreach representative for Wards 5 and 7. Be sure to say hello to Linda if you see her at an OPC event in your neighborhood!

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

Consumer Complaint/CC2017-9075225 –25 & DC Court/DCC2018-01-E – Joemah v. Pepco

On January 2, 2018, OPC filed on behalf of the consumer, an Application for Reconsideration regarding a quality of service complaint. The PSC had decided the consumer complaint in favor of Pepco, however, OPC requested a follow-up review of the circumstances leading to the customer’s dispute over the charges Pepco imposed to temporarily disconnect electric service so that service work could be safely conducted on the customer’s premises.

On March 2, OPC filed a Motion to Amend its Petition for Review, and on March 6, OPC filed an Unopposed Motion to Amend Petition for Review at the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Consumer Complaint/CC2017-9075227 – Cureton v. Pepco

On March 5, OPC filed a Motion for a 10-day extension to prepare Complainant's witnesses and exhibits, in relation to the Complainant’s high bill dispute. Customer reported sporadic high bills that do not appear to track with usage and the size of her unit.

Formal Case No. 1027 - Petition of the Office of the People’s Counsel for an Expedited Investigation of the Distribution System of Washington Gas Light Company

On March 12, OPC filed Comments on WGL's 2017 Annual Report on PROJECTpipes. The Commission required Washington Gas to file an Annual Project List describing the pipe replacement projects for which the company will seek cost recovery each year and estimates for each project’s cost for the construction program.

Formal Case No. 1126 – OPC’s Complaint Against Washington Gas Light Company Regarding its Unlawful Compensation of Competitive Service Providers in Violation of its Rate Schedule No. 5

In August 2016, the PSC ordered WGL to refund $2.4 million to District ratepayers because of an improper compensation methodology that refunded vendors for the over-delivery of gas to WGL.

On March 16, 2018, OPC filed its Response to WGL's Proposed Disbursement of Remaining Funds.

Formal Case No. 1105 – Investigation into the Business and Solicitation Practices of Starion Energy in the District of Columbia and addressing the Petition of the Office of the People's Counsel to Open a Wide-Ranging investigation of all Alternative Energy Suppliers Licensed in the District of Columbia

Starion Energy has completed the one-year probationary period ordered by the Commission, and is resuming marketing to new consumers in the District.

On March 19, Starion Energy and OPC filed a Joint Motion to Close Formal Case No. 1105.

Formal Case No. 1119 – Joint Application of the Pepco Holdings-Exelon Merger Transaction

As a condition of the PHI-Exelon merger, Pepco committed to conduct a rootcause analysis of Pepco’s customer-satisfaction scores and develop an action plan to improve them. The analysis would identify the reason for issues of dispute with the goal of preventing their recurrence.

Pepco filed its root-cause report on September 22, 2016. OPC filed comments on May 10, 2017, concluding that Pepco’s report was deficient in many respects.

On July 24, 2017, the Commission ordered Pepco to supplement its root-cause analysis because it also found the report to be lacking information. On October 23, 2017, Pepco filed the supplemental report.

On March 23, 2018, OPC filed a motion requesting permission to submit comments on Pepco’s supplemental report; concluded that Pepco did not address the deficiencies; and requested the Commission direct Pepco to hire an expert consultant to conduct the root-cause analysis for Pepco.

East River Family Strengthening Collaborative, Inc. (ERFSC) was established in 1996 and is one of seven neighborhood based agencies participating in the Healthy Families Thriving Communities Collaboratives. They are supported by the DC Child and Family Services Agency and the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The mission of ERFSC is to empower families, youth, seniors and communities to become more self-sufficient through integrated and collaborative community based services, including connecting with OPC for assistance with clients' utility concerns. The agency works to:

  • Reduce the number of children etering the child welfare system of care;
  • Provide services to prevent homelessness;
  • Increase financial self-sufficiency;
  • Decrease youth violence; and
  • Protect the rights of seniors and persons with disabilities.

Learn more at http://www.erfsc.org/

OPC will be out at the following events:

ANC 4D Meeting Utility Update
Location:Truesdell Education Campus 800 Ingraham Street NW
Date:Tuesday, April 17th
Time: 7:30 pm

Energy Efficiency Workshop
Location: Wheatley Education Campus 1299 Neal Street NE
Date: Wednesday, April 18th
Time:4:00 - 5:00 pm

Mill Creek Residential Job Fair
Location: The Festival Center 1640 Columbia Road NW
Date:Thursday, April 26th
Time: 11:00 am

Conversation on Aging Symposium
Location:St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Rock Creek Parish Rock Creek Church Road and Webster Street NW
Date: Saturday, April 28th
Time: 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

Energy Day in the Community
Location: Good Success Christian Church 4401 Sheriff Road NE
Date: Saturday, April 28th
Time:11:00 am – 1:00 pm