A Note from Your People's Counsel
If you follow the proceedings of the Council of the District of Columbia, you may know that Council committees have been holding performance oversight hearings to delve into how agencies are carrying out their mission and serving District residents. As an independent agency of the DC government, the Office of the People's Counsel comes before the Committee on Business and Economic Development, chaired by Ward 5 Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie.
On February 22nd, I welcomed the opportunity to talk about OPC's accomplishments that benefitted consumers in all eight wards of the city over the past year and to lay out the upcoming challenges.
Among the points I made: 2016 was of epic proportion with fundamental changes to the regulatory landscape. OPC aggressively advocated for DC consumers in utility matters including, the Pepco-Exelon merger; multi-million dollar rate increase requests by Pepco and Washington Gas; reports of a WGL merger; the re-emergence of Third Party Suppliers, and the development of attainable solar options for DC residents.
OPC continues to strive to ensure the needs of all utility consumers are met, and more importantly, all consumers are involved in the dialogue. I can say with confidence OPC has tackled the challenges and delivered tangible benefits to our clients. For FY 2016 to date, OPC responded to more than 4,000 individual consumer complaints and inquiries. That's a 15 percent increase over the previous year, which we believe is a direct result of our intensified outreach and awareness campaign. Despite the complexity of today's utility issues, we were able to resolve 95 percent of complaints.
Read my full testimony here...and while you're at it, check out the new OPC website!
OPC recently released its Senior Outreach, Awareness and Energy Efficiency Education Campaign Report. The Senior Report responds to a DC Council directive to assess energy efficiency education and outreach programs for low-income and elderly residents. To get their insight, OPC convened a "Low-and Limited-Income Seniors Focus Group" on February 22, 2016. Attendees included ANC commissioners, representatives from community and non-profit organizations, and seniors' activists. Focus Group participants were passionate about the need for utility companies to upgrade customer service, provide information about products and programs benefiting seniors and low income consumers, and ensure that a wide range of media outlets were used to provide information.
OPC's Senior Report provides an overview of the Focus Group's discussions. Topics included identifying elderly consumers' experiences with utilities, how they can save money on bills and how the use of media could keep seniors informed. OPC then engaged a consultant to target outreach and education to low-income, elderly consumers. This led to OPC's "Awareness and Energy Efficiency Education Campaign," that utilized newspaper, radio, and transit media.
The Senior Report will serve as a policy guide for future initiatives that will ensure seniors and low-income consumers are served to the highest degrees. The report is being distributed to key government officials and OPC's service network partners.
Spring is just around the corner, which means warmer weather and the end to Pepco's winter disconnection moratorium. When the temperature stays below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, Pepco generally will not disconnect non-paying customers due to the season's extreme cold weather conditions. However, as temperatures rise, you can anticipate that Pepco will begin to disconnect customers for non-payment.
If you owe Pepco a significant past due account balance, you could be eligible for a payment plan. Please contact the Office of the People's Counsel immediately at 202-727-3071.
PLEASE DO NOT WAIT UNTIL YOU ARE DISCONNECTED.
Our Consumer Services Division can reach out to Pepco on your behalf and work to help keep your lights on this spring. "As someone who has worked directly on behalf of District ratepayers for a number of years, I can say with all honesty that there are a lot more options and resources available for residents who have not yet been disconnected. It's much easier for us to help consumers keep their lights on than it is to turn them back on," says Senior Consumer Education Specialist Linda Jefferson.
We are here to help so that you are not left in the dark.
The Salvation Army
As the District's utility consumer advocate, OPC holds quarterly "Social Service Agency Workshops." The sessions are a good opportunity to exchange information and promote partnerships with social service agencies. One of OPC's social service partners is the
Salvation Army. Through the WGL Washington Area Fuel Fund (WAFF), residents may receive home heating assistance.
The Salvation Army, in addition to its variety of social service programs, administers WAFF, which can pay for energy sources to heat families' homes during the winter. While resolving billing complaints, OPC may refer consumers to the Salvation Army. When other payment assistance is not available, WAFF can be a safety net.
WAFF assistance is available in the metropolitan area through the Salvation Army between January 1 and May 31 each year. For more information, or to apply for assistance, District residents can contact the Salvation Army at (202) 332-5000 or visit washingtonareafuelfund.org.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
OPC's advocacy resulted in a significant reduction in the Washington Gas Light Company rate increase. The PSC approved $8 million instead of the $19.9 million WGL sought. The PSC also accepted OPC's recommendations to reject:
- WGL's request to implement a Revenue Normalization Adjustment, which would have allowed automatic recovery of certain company expenses,
- request to recover research and development expenses and
- the requested increase in WGL's return on equity (profit margin).
OPC filed its opening brief at the DC Court of Appeals challenging PSC approval of the Pepco-Exelon merger. OPC also submitted data requests to Pepco in this proceeding examining Pepco's compliance with the merger commitments.
OPC filed a petition to initiate a rulemaking procedure to amend the Consumer Bill of Rights to increase protections for ratepayers.
In the Matter of the Investigation into the Establishment of a Purchase of Receivables Program for Natural Gas Suppliers and Their Customers in the District of Columbia, OPC filed Reply Comments.
In addition, the Office filed two consumer complaints on behalf of Washington Gas customers.
In our continuing profiles of OPC employees who work daily to serve District utility consumers, we introduce Jason Cumberbatch.
An Electrical Engineer by day and "Caribbean King" by night, Jason Cumberbatch has been with OPC for more than two years. He functions as a technical advisor on matters relating to electrical energy efficiency and conservation, system safety and reliability. Serving in OPC's Litigation Division, Jason also works on projects involving electric power lines, metering and natural gas pipeline infrastructure.
One of Jason's responsibilities is monitoring "referee meter tests." A test is conducted when an electric or gas consumer questions the accuracy of their meter and is disputing high bills. It is Jason's job to help determine if the problem results from faulty meter wiring, customer habits, or inefficient building specifications, for example. Resolving a meter mystery is challenging work, which Jason recognizes is critical to helping consumers conserve energy and money. But he says he is up to the challenge.
Jason graduated from Howard University with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. His background includes positions with Baltimore Gas and Electric, Dominion Virginia Power and the American Gas Association.
A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Jason loves to share Caribbean culture, cuisine and music with others. He does that by hosting, producing and managing Caribbean events in the area and nationally. When Jason is not rooted in the Caribbean- American community or tending to OPC duties, he is spending time with his 1-year- old son and family.
The Executive Office of the Mayor has initiated a new mandate directing all DC government agencies to launch a "Workplace Wellness Program." What is that, you ask? Well, the main goal of this initiative is for each government agency to have a committee in place that will strive to increase the health and well-being of employees through their voluntary participation.
In accordance with this mandate, the Office of the People's Counsel formed its Workplace Wellness Committee. Led by Deputy People's Counsel Karen Sistrunk, the committee meets regularly to come up with ideas for fun and informative activities to spark the staff to live a healthier life both in and out of the office.
So far the Committee has hosted a "Heart Health Seminar," where a nutritionist provided valuable lifestyle tips for avoiding heart disease and dietary measures that staff can take to improve their heart health. The Committee has also recently coordinated OPC's involvement in the District government's "On the Move" Step Challenge. OPC has an impressive four teams registered and is actively competing with other agencies to see who can achieve the most walking steps within an eight week period. Wish us luck, we intend to be a competitive bunch. It's first place or bust!
The OPC Connection has been highlighting and poking fun at OPC's collection of historic posters, artwork and memorabilia. This month we're thrilled to be taking time from our regularly scheduled comedy to showcase some of the amazing artwork on display in our office on loan from the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities. Enjoy!
Never too young to learn how to save energy, these cute kids at the FBR Boys & Girls Club in Ward 8 got OPC backpacks and other prizes for promising to help their families save on utility bills. Contact OPC to set up a workshop for your youth group.
We thank all who attended OPC utility and energy issues briefings in February for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners from all eight wards.