The OPC Connection - March 2019

 

A Note from ​​Your People's Counsel

Sandra Mattavous-Frye

Coming to a Neighborhood Near You

I am excited to announce that the Office of the People’s Counsel is kicking off a series of “Utility Town Halls,” this Tuesday, March 26, to hear from residents on their utility needs, to update you on OPC’s work on behalf of utility consumers and to discuss current trends in the District’s utility market. The first meeting will take place at the Thurgood Marshall Academy Public Charter School, located at 2427 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm. We are pleased to partner with the Anacostia Coordinating Council for this first outing.

My staff will cover issues such as the recent scams affecting Pepco customers, Washington Gas and Pepco construction projects, the new clean energy bill, and the latest developments in solar energy. Attendees also will get to hear about OPC’s new role as the advocate for DC Water consumers, as mandated by recent DC Council legislation. But what we really want is to hear form you during the question and answer period.

We have seen major changes with DC utilities over the past several years and we want to personally discuss with community members where we are, where we are going and where you would like OPC to go in serving you. We insist that consumers have a voice in these matters and our town halls will be the right setting to sound off.

The next scheduled Utility Town Hall will be held on Thursday, April 18, at Mount Airy Baptist Church in Ward 5. We’ll keep you posted as future meetings are planned. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook and at www.opc-dc.gov for updates.

OPC Attorney Anjali Patel addresses February meeting of the Utility Consumer Advisory Network.

The Utility Consumer Advocacy Network (UCAN) turned out for its first quarterly meeting in February. UCAN members, who represent a variety of neighborhoods, industries and civic groups, are charged with keeping OPC abreast of the issues affecting utility consumers.

OPC staff members briefed UCAN members on the status of DC Council legislation that will enable OPC to assist DC Water customers resolve complaints; were warned about recent utility bill scams; and learned about performance-based ratemaking under which utilities could be rewarded for meeting specific performance goals.

“We had a robust discussion on performance-based ratemaking and what that could mean for the average consumer,” said Victoria Leonard, who represents the building and construction trades industry. “Participating in the UCAN allows me to hear different perspectives on how utility rates impact a particular community. I believe this group will be useful in providing OPC guidance in formulating policy and legal arguments in rate increase cases.”

Barbara Morgan, a representative of the senior community, raised concerns about Verizon’s transition from copper phone line to fiber optic cable service. According to Morgan, Verizon has failed to educate consumers about the platform change. “If one switches service from copper to fiber optic cable, you can never return to copper service,” she said. “This may leave senior citizens without landline telephone service if there is a power outage.” OPC staff provided information about a case before the Public Service Commission (Formal Case 1102), which defined consumers’ rights in the copper to fiber transition. Morgan also expressed concern about the impact of Verizon’s increases in surcharges, taxes and fees on seniors and lower income consumers.

OPC launched UCAN last year in its continuing efforts to give consumers a place at the table in utility matters.

There have been plenty of twists and turns for the DC Power Line Undergrounding (DC PLUG) initiative since it was envisioned about eight years ago to improve the reliability and resiliency of the District’s electric system. The joint Pepco-DC Department of Transportation plan to place some of Pepco’s most vulnerable power lines underground to prevent power outages in severe weather has moved forward despite court challenges. Construction is scheduled to begin this spring in Ward 3.

The latest court decision came on March 7, when the DC Court of Appeals upheld the construction financing plan the DC Public Service Commission had previously approved. Recognizing the critical need to storm-harden the system, OPC supported the PSC’s action and filed an amicus brief to the court. OPC has worked to keep the charges consumers must pay to fund the project affordable. We’ll keep you posted on DC PLUG as it moves forward.

Inclusion is a top priority for OPC. The Office translates numerous documents in multiple languages to ensure that different populations of DC utility consumers can benefit from our services. ​

The agency also believes it’s important to give people who are blind or visually impaired equal access to consumer education and information. For example, we recently translated “OPC Is Your Utility Lawyer” into Braille. OPC makes Braille documents available to agencies that assist persons with vision disabilities and to other partners. If you would like any OPC-translated documents, contact our language access outreach specialist at (202) 727-3071 or go to www.opc-dc.gov.

The Solar Connection is a feature designed to "shine the light" on developments in solar power and educate consumers about the energy option.

The DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) is the only energy efficiency utility in the country that combines energy savings with social impact, creating green jobs, opportunities for local businesses, and alleviating the energy burden for the most vulnerable residents.

This Spring, the DCSEU is excited to administer the Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE)’s Solar for All program, one of the largest income-qualified solar efforts in the country. Participating households will see savings of more than 50 percent on their utility bills, resulting in an anticipated annual savings of more than $500. The installed solar systems are being offered to income-eligible residents. This year alone, the DCSEU will work with contractors to bring solar to roughly 130 DC homes as well as help thousands of other DC residents benefit from solar output through community solar

In addition to renewable energy, the DCSEU offers instant rebates for lighting in your home as well as rebates for qualifying equipment purchases like refrigerators or ovens. The utility also is working with the DOEE to repair and replace broken heating and air conditioning systems for eligible seniors and people living with disabilities through its Emergency Assistance Program. If you are interested in going solar, contact DCSEU to determine if you qualify for the second phase of Solar for All, at (202) 479-2222. You also can visit the DCSEU’s website to learn more about all of the DCSEU’s energy efficiency work and how the agency can help you take better care of the planet and your wallet.

This article was contributed by Karen Blyton, DCSEU Public Affairs Specialist.

This month’s employee spotlight is on Erica Jones, who brought her hard work, commitment to service and smile to OPC six years ago. Erica started out working as the agency’s front desk receptionist, a position that, as the People’s Counsel puts it, “is one of vital importance as it is the first voice or face that consumers connect with when they reach out to the Office for help.”

In November 2016, Erica was promoted to Consumer Outreach Specialist. She works directly with Pepco, Washington Gas and Verizon representatives to investigate and resolve District ratepayers’ complaints. You also might have seen her out in your community, disseminating information to educate residents of their rights as utility consumers, as well informing them on the many ways OPC can help with utility matters.

When she’s not in the community or at her desk resolving utility disputes, Erica likes to go out to eat. The third generation native Washingtonian is the only girl among three younger brothers. In her busy life, Erica tries to find time to work out and travel, all while being an active member of Glory Center Family Church. If you see Erica at an event or meeting in your neighborhood be sure to say hi, chances are she says she will be the lady laughing to lighten things up with a big smile on her face.

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

Formal Case No. 1142, The Merger Application of AltaGas Ltd. and WGL Holdings, Inc.

On February 28, OPC filed a Joint Response with the DC government regarding the selection of a third-party consultant to perform a cost-benefit analysis for acceleration of WGL’s PROJECTpipes program as set forth in merger Commitment No. 54.

OPC recommended that the Commission select Continuum Capital as the consultant to conduct the required analysis, and direct WGL to include in its retention contract language that would mitigate any potential conflict.

Formal Case No. 1009, The Investigation into Affiliated Activities, Promotional Practices, and Code of Conduct of Regulated Gas and Electric Companies

On March 5, OPC filed a Response to WGL’s Motion for Enlargement of Time to file a Limited Enlargement Report. OPC was not opposed to the Motion.

Formal Case No. 1115, Washington Gas Light Company’s Request for Approval of a Revised Accelerated Pipeline Replacement Plan

On March 8, OPC filed an Unopposed Motion for Enlargement of Time to submit comments for the Completion of Reconciliation Project Report by Washington Gas.

OPC will be out at the following events:

Frances Gregory Library
Location:3660 Alabama Avenue SE
Date: Thursday, March 28th
Time: 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce 10th Annual Business Expo
Location:Walter E. Washington Convention Center
801 Mt. Vernon Place NW
Date: Friday March 29th
Time: 7:30 am - 6:00 pm

35th Annual Capital City Chapter of the Links, Inc. Senior Luncheon
Location:UDC New Student Center
4200 Connecticut Avenue NW
Date: Saturday, April 6th
Time: 10:30 am - 3:30 pm

Multi-Faith Living His Legacy in 2019 New York Avenue Presbyterian Church
Location:1313 New York Avenue NW
Date: Sunday, April 7th
Time: 3:00 pm - 4:30 pm

Chevy Chase Library
Location:5625 Connecticut Avenue NW
Date: Tuesday, April 9th
Time: 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm