Published: Date: September 25,2018

A bill introduced April 10 in the District of Columbia’s City Council would set up an independent authority to collect data on how and when energy is used by customers of local utility Pepco and create a marketplace for renewable energy to add to DC’s grid.

The bill, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Charles Allen and Mary Cheh, has been referred to the Committee on Business and Economic Development.

“With this bill, like any other legislative effort,” Allen said, “there will be opinions on both sides, but I have heard an outpouring of overwhelming support” since its introduction. “If this bill passes, it will be a monumental shift in the way we create and consume energy in the District. It will mean cleaner, more affordable energy and economic development and jobs for District residents.”

Cheh said that as the District pursues ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions “more and more of our buildings will be producing their own energy, though they remain interconnected with the electric grid to ensure stability.” As a result, the District needs “a neutral third party” to manage interconnection and provide access to data about the grid’s capacity and energy needs. “The Distributed Energy Resources Authority can fulfill that role.”

Currently, DC residents annually spend $1.8 billion to purchase fossil fuels, Allen said. Creating a marketplace for District businesses to add solar, wind and other renewable energy to help power the grid “keeps our money here and creates new jobs,” he added.

Pepco, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Exelon, installed smart meters not long ago in a project paid for by residents and the District government.

However, Pepco currently only provides households with usage data 24 hours later and only in 15-minute increments – not in real-time, Eric Salmi, Allen’s communications director, said Thursday.

That “doesn’t tell homeowners much about their consumption.”

The bill would allow ratepayers to see their energy usage in real-time and authorize third-party apps, for example, to identify which appliances are the largest source of energy use, he noted.

Some commercial customers now may be able to access their own data in something closer to real-time “by going behind the meter,” he said, “but that’s not easy to do and it’s not really an option for residential ratepayers.”

Included in the bill is a provision for creating a secure repository for the entire city’s data usage, which would provide for “a much fuller picture of energy demand across the city and in each home, allowing energy providers to have a much more accurate sense of usage and interconnected sources of energy generated locally,” Salmi added.

The Authority would place a priority on renewable, “non-wires” energy sources anytime Pepco identifies infrastructure needs that cost $25 million or more. The Authority would seek bids to build non-wires alternatives such as solar and battery storage. Pepco would be allowed to compete for the projects, alongside District residents.

Salmi said the Authority would use the data it has about energy generation and consumption to determine whether options like solar and battery storage can meet the capacity need Pepco has identified and do it at a lower cost, although he said the bill was not written to favor any particular technology.

If the non-wires analysis shows that non-wires alternatives are suitable for the project, the Authority would issue a formal request for proposals for construction of such options that meet the need. If a non-wires alternative cannot fulfill the need at a lower cost, Pepco would go ahead with its traditional project.

Generally, the lowest bid would be preferred. However, if two proposals are within 5%, preference goes to the bid that guarantees more jobs for District residents and/or a higher percentage of local and small business participation in the contract.

The intent of the bill, Salmi stressed, “was to allow the District’s energy market to be more nimble and adopt new technologies as they become viable.”

Pepco spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson said her utility fully supports and has demonstrated its commitment to modernizing the local electric system “and advancing innovative solutions to provide a more reliable, efficient, affordable and sustainable energy grid.”

Pepco, she said, plans to work closely with the City Council to discuss the impact the proposal would have on its customers and overall system reliability.