A Note from Your People's Counsel
OPC Remote but Ready
As our city and its residents face unprecedented challenges with the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, the Office of the People’s Counsel continues to aggressively advocate for District utility consumers even with the limitations of remote operations. Over the past three weeks, my staff have handled dozens of consumer complaints and concerns, with particular focus on disconnections and restorations.
With health professionals saying hand-washing is critical to preventing the spread of the virus, “water is life” is not just a cliché. OPC is in frequent contact with DC Water, as well as the other utilities to do all we can to ensure vital utility services continue in District households to protect their health and safety. We’ve also had numerous conversations with DC elected officials as we work together to resolve constituent complaints.
On March 10, I sent a letter to water, electric, natural gas and telephone company officials to learn how they would adjust their consumer service and payment policies during this crisis. We urged the utilities to institute a moratorium on disconnections to guarantee essential services would continue. OPC also reached out to DC councilmembers, and the result of our outreach was emergency legislation prohibiting disconnections during the public health emergency.
I appreciate that lawmakers and utility leaders shared OPC’s concerns, putting the District in the forefront of all states and jurisdictions that took action, as we worked together to protect DC households during this crisis for the common good!
If you are experiencing a problem with any utility, OPC will act expeditiously to address your issue. Contact my staff at (202) 727-3071 or file a complaint at opc-dc.gov. Get updates on the District's response to the pandemichere.
OPC sends best wishes for the health and safety of all and sympathy for the loved ones of the virus’s victims.
In our offices or away, in the midst of a crisis or not, OPC always will be at the beck and call of DC consumers.
OPC conducts dozens of workshops in DC schools to teach children of all ages simple tips to help their families save energy and money on utility bills. With distance learning during these challenging times, the OPC website has coloring book pages that can be downloaded and printed. They show energy efficiency and safety messages. Find the pages in English and Spanish here.
Utility scams are on OPC’s front burner as numerous consumers have alerted the Office that scammers are raising their ugly head during the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis. These scams may come via phone, email, regular mail or even in person. And in an effort to get sales, the unscrupulous marketer may threaten disconnection if you don't make a payment. Some scam calls even show up on your caller ID as if a utility is calling.
OPC advises you to never share account or social security numbers, or any other personal information. If you have been contacted by someone claiming to be from a utility company, call OPC at (202) 727-3071 to speak with a consumer outreach specialist who can investigate with the utility company on your behalf. OPC staff members are currently serving consumers remotely due to COVID-19 and will return your call within 24 hours. You also can file a complaint at opc-dc.gov.
Be aware that a utility company will not disconnect your service without giving you a disconnection notice in advance. Before making any decision about your utility service, check with your energy supplier and/or look at your most recent bill to check your current account balance. Only call the utility contact number on your bill or on a company website.
OPC stands ready to help stop scams during the coronavirus crisis and beyond.
OPC has spent months investigating Pepco’s rate case application, filed in May 2019, in which Pepco asked the DC Public Service Commission (PSC) to allow it to implement a three-year multiyear rate plan to increase rates by $160 million over the three years. The proposal, based on Pepco’s forecast of its costs, also asks the Commission to approve “performance incentive mechanisms” that would reward Pepco if the company met its own performance targets. Should the PSC not accept the multiyear rate plan, Pepco instead would seek to raise rates by over $80 million.
After extensive review, OPC filed testimony on March 6, calling on the PSC to reject the multiyear rate plan and performance incentives; and to significantly cut the rate increase Pepco is seeking. OPC found Pepco’s requests, if approved as filed, would be unjust and unreasonable and that consumers would be harmed by rates that are higher than what Pepco needs to deliver service.
The OPC team also found Pepco’s proposed multiyear rate plan to be overly complex and could open the door for Pepco to spend significantly more than what is needed to serve electric customers. OPC also noted that Pepco’s proposed incentive mechanisms could reward the utility for services ratepayers already are entitled to, and are already paying for, namely safe and reliable electric service and good customer service.
Protecting your interests, OPC is advocating for the Commission to reject the multiyear rate plan, review Pepco’s alternative application, and reduce it by $60 million.
OPC will keep consumers informed as the case moves forward.
What am I really about to drink? It may be a question you ask yourself while filling your glass or pitcher with water. A lot of people apparently wonder about the same thing because the water filtration business is growing every year, as we become more knowledgeable about contaminants in drinking water. For whatever reason, consumers are moved to purchase and install filters and filtration systems to clean their water.
Even though water filtration provides a sense of safety to the drinker, not all filters are equal. Did you know that a majority of the devices provide a list of contaminates they filter on the packaging? Lead, a major contaminate, requires a certified filter by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), the Water Quality Association, or another licensed certifier. While we have known about the dangers of lead for decades, many consumers are not aware there are certification requirements for lead filters.
Consumers can order a lead test kit from DC Water here. If you still have lead or galvanized pipes, you need to purchase certified filters, which will make your water safe to drink.
Visit this link to the NSF to see a listing of certified filters for drinking water.
Launched less than a year ago, the persistent work of OPC’s Water Services Division (WSD) has resulted in tens of thousands of $$$s returned to DC Water customers in bill adjustments.
Bill disputes can be overwhelming for a consumer. However, with WSD on board, ratepayers are guaranteed not only education about water issues, but advocacy and advice on how to exercise their rights.
OPC recently won almost $7,000 in adjustments for two ratepayers who sought assistance from WSD. Attorney Grace Soderberg and Community Outreach Specialist Rusheeda Boyd comprised the resolution team who championed victories for these District residents.
DC Water had conducted bill investigations for the ratepayers prior to OPC’s involvement and initially found that the consumers were responsible for exorbitant charges.
On behalf of Abby Swartz, a Ward 6 resident, WSD disputed bill charges of approximately $2,049. OPC’s investigation revealed that a failed meter caused Ms. Swartz’s elevated charges. The end result of OPC’s negotiations with DC Water was a $1,782 bill credit for Ms. Swartz.
A Ward 5 resident (who chose not to be named) disputed a $4,437 DC Water bill. Following OPC’s investigation, it was determined that a leak flowed from public space and not on the consumer’s private property. The final decision, rendered with the help of the Soderburg-Boyd resolution team, provided a bill credit of $4,904 for the ratepayer.
The satisfied customers applauded Ms. Soderberg’s and Ms. Boyd’s commitment to right wrongs and produce consumer benefits.
A new law approved in 2019 empowers WSD with tools to serve as the statutory advocate for DC Water customers. They can bring service complaints to a resolution team that includes an OPC attorney and outreach specialist. If a consumer disputes the findings of a DC Water investigation, the ratepayer has the right to request a hearing within 15 days of the decision.
The resolution team reviews the facts of the complaint, explains the merits of the case to the consumer, prepares evidence and testimony, and then represents the consumer at a DC Water hearing.
If you need help with a water service issue, call OPC at (202) 727-3071, or fill out a complaint form at opc-dc.gov. OPC’s Water Service Division is standing by to produce more satisfied customers!
COVID-19 Impacting Solar Installations
Because of the coronavirus crisis, mandated restrictions and social distancing, many solar installers are operating remotely rather than on location or have put projects on hold. Solar companies across the country are shuttering construction sites, including installers in the District, Boston and San Francisco. However, some are keeping operations running through online communications with clients. Locally, be sure to contact your installer if you have a project in the works to discuss pending plans and make sure you and the solar company are on the same page.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1160: The Development of Metrics for Electric Company and Gas Company Energy Efficiency and Demand Response Programs Pursuant to Section 20l(B) of the CleanEnergy DC Omnibus
The Commission established an Energy Efficiency and Demand Response (EEDR) Metrics Working Group per the direction of the CleanEnergy DC Omnibus Act in order to develop and file long-term and annual energy savings metrics, quantitative performance indicators, and cost-effective standards to be adopted by the Commission for the electric company and gas company energy efficiency or demand response programs. On March 12, 2020, OPC provided specific comments and recommendations as to how the Commission should implement these programs.
Formal Case No. 1154: The Application of Washington Gas Light Company for Approval of PROJECTpipes 2 Plan
Pursuant to the Commission's Order No. 20288 of February 3, 2020, on February 14, with support of intervenor, Environmental Defense Fund, OPC submitted a proposed procedural schedule for reviewing WGL’s Pipes 2 Application.
On February 24, OPC filed its Response to WGL’s Motion to Further Extend PROJECTpipes 1 Plan and Proposed Procedural Schedule for PROJECTpipes 2 Plan and Request for Affirmative Relief.
On February 26, OPC filed a Notice of Agency Fund Requirements with the Commission, requesting that it direct WGL to make a deposit into OPC’s Agency Fund.
Formal Case No. 1156: Pepco’s Application for Authority to Implement a Multiyear Rate Plan for Electric Distribution Service in the District of Columbia.
On February 28, the DC government, collectively with OPC, moved for the admission into the record the transcript of the deposition of Mr. Kevin M. McGowan, Vice President of Regulatory Policy and Strategy at Pepco Holdings, LLC and a witness in this proceeding.
On March 6, OPC filed its Direct Testimony and Testimony Index, containing a list of the Office’s witnesses, along with confidential testimony and exhibits under separate cover.
Formal Case No. 1162: Washington Gas Light Company’s Application for the Authority to Increase Existing Rates and Charges for Gas Service
On February 26, OPC filed its Proposed List of Issues and Proposed Procedural Schedule.
Prior to the public health emergency, OPC debuted on March 9, OPC Radio Connect", a podcast hosted by People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye. The podcast is broadcast from the studios of the DC Office of Cable Television, Film, Music and Entertainment's DC Radio. The goal of OPC Radio Connect is to present information on a variety of utility and energyrelated issues and how they relate to the daily lives of DC consumers. DC Radio production is now on hiatus. But in the meantime, you can listen to early recordings of OPC Radio Connect on DC Radio 96.3 HD4, DCRadio.gov, Google and Alexa, Monday - Friday, 7-7:30 am. We hope to get back on the air with new shows soon.
The history of OPC was the topic with Dr. Jerome Paige, economist and longtime community advocate; People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye; Brian Lederer, who was the 2nd People's Counsel; and Jean Gross-Bethel, a longserving OPC Consumer Outreach Specialist.
People's Counsel Mattavous-Frye welcomes Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali, climate and environmental justice activist, with the National Wildlife Federation, to discuss why we shoud all care about climate change.
OPC Deputy People's Counsel Karen Sistrunk and Consumer Outreach Specialists Cheryl Morse and Stephen Marencic raised awareness about third party energy suppliers.
OPC Water Services Division Attorney Grace Soderberg and WSD Manager Chandler Crumlin talk about how the division is advocating for DC Water consumers.
Two segments on utility consumer rights and solar access featured, on back row: OPC Litigation Services Director Laurence Daniels, Lenwood Coleman of Groundswell, OPC's Pamela Nelson; front row: OPC Public Information Officer Doxie McCoy, People's Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye and Assistant People's Counsel Grace Soderberg.
Attorneys Laurence Daniels, Travis Smith, Barbara Burton and Thaddeus Johnson of OPC's Litigation Services Division discuss utility infrastructure projects.
Pamela Nelson, OPC Energy Efficiency & Sustainability Outreach Specialist, discusses Solar for All with the People's Counsel.