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Author:   PC-DC    Published: 7/1/2024    Office of the People Counsel

June 2024

A Note from Your

People’s Counsel

Sandra Mattavous-Frye

Advice From the Community is Critical

Earlier this month, OPC was pleased to host a briefing on current utility issues for the District’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners. I shared with the diverse assembly of newly elected and continuing ANCs that OPC’s relationship with them is essential to upholding the important governing principle that requires city officials to give “Great Weight” to testimony and recommendations made by ANC commissioners on issues affecting their communities. I reminded the legacy commissioners and informed the new commissioners of the three decades of collaboration between OPC and ANCs. OPC believes community leaders have the power but need the correct data to use it effectively.

I shared OPC’s vision for energy efficiency, increased sustainability, resilient infrastructure, and our goal to enhance the overall quality of life for District residents through advocacy on utility matters.

We shared several initiatives and rate cases that OPC is working on. These include modernizing utility infrastructure, as needed and justified by correct data, the city’s Solar for All program, the Benning Road power plant cleanup, Washington Gas’s PROJECTpipes, utility climate business plans, and the questionable practices of some third-party energy suppliers. The outcome of these cases will set the stage for the future.

Additionally, I informed the commissioners that OPC is working on decarbonization issues consistent with the District’s clean energy goals, affordability issues, and my desire to get more consumers to use or install energy efficient appliances, and lighting and heating/cooling systems, and take advantage of the many free programs and upgrade opportunities available through the DC government. 

My staff members explained OPC’s role in the regulatory process, our broad-based consumer education and outreach strategy that includes working with the student climate leaders of tomorrow, and how we work daily to resolve consumer complaints against the utilities. The commissioners asked about the future of electrification and what may lie ahead for Washington Gas as reliance on fossil fuels is drastically reduced.

OPC is committed to regularly briefing a wide spectrum of community leaders as well as individuals. If you or your organization would like to host an OPC speaker at your next community meeting in person or virtually, contact us at (202) 727-3071. If you are an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner who was unable to attend the June 3rd briefing, please send us an email at info@opc-dc.gov to receive a link to the meeting recording.

What Neighbors Need to Know about Utility Work Notifications

The maintenance and replacement of utility lines for water, gas, electricity, and telecommunications are needed across the District to support efforts to modernize our utility networks and ensure the reliable services that undergird modern life. Therefore, consumers need to stay informed about significant utility work in their neighborhoods.

Notification Practices

While there are no explicit statutory requirements in DC laws and regulations requiring utility companies to notify residents before beginning significant work, good practices and standard customer service protocols dictate that DC Water, Pepco, and Washington Gas notify customers of planned work that will impact their service. This notification typically includes information on the project’s scope, the expected duration, and any potential disruptions to services.

What to Expect:

1. Advance Notice: Residents can generally expect to receive advance notice from the utilities, including Verizon, before the start of any significant work that may disrupt their service. This notification is delivered through door hangers, mailings, or community meetings. The notice will provide details on the work’s nature, the expected timeline, and any temporary impacts on services.

2. Coordination with city authorities: Utility companies coordinate with city agencies, such as the District Department of Transportation, to obtain necessary permits and ensure that the work is conducted safely and with minimal disruption to the community.

3. Project Information: Detailed information about the project, including the specific streets and blocks affected, is often available on utility websites. Residents can check online resources or contact the utilities directly for updates on the status of a project and any anticipated service interruptions.

Protecting Yourself from Scams

Unfortunately, utility work can sometimes attract imposters attempting to take advantage of unsuspecting residents. It’s important to remain vigilant and verify the identity of anyone claiming to be from a utility company. Legitimate employees and contractors will have proper identification and will never ask to enter your home to view your bills or request personal information. If you have any doubts, contact the utility directly to confirm the legitimacy of the individual and the work being performed.

Staying informed about utility work is essential. By understanding the notification practices and being aware of potential scams, you can better prepare for any disruptions and ensure that your utility services remain safe and reliable. OPC is always here to support utility consumers and advocate for your rights. If you need additional information, contact OPC at (202) 727-3071. Together, we can ensure a safer and healthier future for our community.

PROJECTpipes Update

On June 12, the Public Service Commission issued an order addressing OPC’s and public concerns about Washington Gas Light’s PROJECTpipes infrastructure improvement program.

 

The Commission rejected WGL’s PROJECTpipes 3 application and directed the company to file a new pipe replacement plan that focuses on replacing the leak-prone, highest-risk pipe segments, based on the age and material of the at-risk pipes; and aligns with the District’s climate goals. The Commission order highlighted that WGL is obligated to maintain the safety and reliability of the gas distribution system regardless of the status of the pipes program.

The order also addressed an independent audit report on PROJECTpipes. The Commission partially accepted the audit report but rejected recommendations to give WGL more flexibility to backfill work or to adopt a costly Graphic Information System or “computer-based” spatial mapping technology.

 

Finally, the Commission established a procedural schedule that will consider a new pipe replacement plan that WGL must submit by July 29, 2024.

 

OPC is pleased that PROJECTpipes 3 was rejected. We are concerned that the revised plan may be no different than an earlier plan. One big concern is that the company will still seek to accelerate recovery of the cost of the project from ratepayers. OPC will advocate for a plan that replaces pipes in a cost-efficient manner and reduces the number of the most serious gas leaks.

Meanwhile, in case you missed it, OPC scored a big win for consumers on June 12 when the Commission agreed to investigate Washington Gas leaks in response to a petition OPC filed. See this link.

OPC Seeks Dismissal of Pepco Proposals to Raise Your Rates

On June 10, OPC filed a Motion to Dismiss Formal Case No. 1176. In this case, Pepco requests the Public Service Commission to approve a significant rate increase. But OPC’s motion asks the Commission to deny the rate hike. The basis for the motion comes from new evidence indicating that Pepco has been earning higher than its authorized revenue and return on equity during the calendar year 2023.

Pepco submitted the rate increase application on April 13, 2023, arguing that the utility would face a revenue shortfall if rates were not increased. Pepco filed two applications for a rate increase. The first was a multiyear rate plan (MYP), which sought to increase rates multiple times over several years. This remains Pepco’s preferred option. The second was a traditional filing with a one-time rate increase, which the Commission required Pepco to file shortly after the utility filed the MYP.

Both applications used financial projections to justify a rate increase. The projections indicated Pepco would be facing a revenue deficiency in 2023. However, recent financial reports filed by Pepco indicate that the company actually over-earned, indicating that its projections were inaccurate.

Accordingly, OPC moved to dismiss the case arguing there is no need for a rate increase. OPC had filed a similar motion requesting that the Public Service Commission dismiss a portion of Pepco’s application for a rate increase on March 12, 2024. This earlier motion was limited, seeking only to dismiss Pepco’s MYP due to structural issues. Now OPC has moved to dismiss both the MYP, and the traditional rate increase proposal. Joining OPC’s second motion was the Apartment and Office Building Association of Metropolitan Washington.

Ultimately, OPC believes the Commission should dismiss both applications as Pepco has demonstrated that a rate increase is not warranted, and the multiyear rate plan presents an alternative form of ratemaking that leaves many questions unanswered.

The DC Council Connection

In this edition of the OPC Connection, we begin a new feature that provides updates on DC Council legislation and action related to utilities.

 

DC residents facing high energy bills during the summer and winter months might find relief as a result of a law proposed by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau. The Utility Disconnection Protection Act of 2024 aims to shield vulnerable residents from utility shutoffs during the hottest and coldest months. Currently, disconnections are governed by extreme temperatures rather than time periods.

The proposed protections would benefit seniors 65 and older, children under 18, individuals with disabilities, and residents receiving certain public assistance. The act would ban electricity and gas disconnections for these households from May 15 to September 15 and November 1 to February 29.

Utility companies would be required to offer year-long payment plans and charge no additional fees, interest, or penalties. A reconnection fee would be capped at $25.

You can track the progress of the proposed legislation here.

 

New Program Helps Residents Switch to Electric Appliances

The city will launch a new program called “Breathe Easy” to help eligible residents switch to electric appliances. The Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Amendment Act, projected to go into effect August 1, 2024, aims to electrify 30,000 homes by 2040.

The Department of Energy & Environment will fully fund the replacement of gas-powered appliances (ovens, water heaters) with electric ones in qualifying homes. This initiative helps residents who might not have the upfront resources to switch to electric appliances, ultimately contributing to a cleaner environment.

The program will have a phased approach, with 2,500 homes completed by the end of 2027, 10,000 by 2032, and 20,000 by 2037. Funded by a surcharge on electric and gas bills through D.C.’s Sustainable Energy Trust Fund, this initiative is a major step toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions, creating a greener environment and cleaner air, and bringing the city closer to its climate goals.

ACT NOW to Apply for Utility Bill Benefits

OPC wants you to know that some programs that provide financial assistance to help consumers pay utility bills have time limits and deadlines for applications as money does run out. If you are struggling with energy or water bills or are looking for discounts, see the useful information below. You might be surprised to learn that you are eligible to receive funds.

Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)

LIHEAP assists District households with heating and cooling energy costs. Residents should check out theUtility Discount Program to receive reduced rates.

Residents can begin scheduling appointments with the Department of Energy & Environment to apply for the fiscal year 2025 LIHEAP assistance program kicking off on October 1, 2024, by calling 311. In-person DOEE appointments for FY 24 LIHEAP funds ended in January.

Homeowners who have fallen behind on mortgage and utility payments may qualify for theDC Homeowner’s Assistance Fund.

 

Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge Residential Relief Program

The Department of Energy & Environment is still accepting applications for DC Water Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge discounts. Eligible consumers can get a percentage off this monthly water bill fee. To apply, see CRIAC Relief on DOEE’s website.

 

DC Water Payment Plan Incentive Program Limited Time Offer

DC Water will reduce your outstanding balance by giving you a 40% bill credit when you enroll in an eligible payment plan and make timely payments. Credits will be made to your account every 120 days following each qualifying payment. See the links for details of the DC Water Payment Plan Incentive Program in English and Spanish. Call DC Water’s Customer Service at (202) 354-3600 to enroll. Also see the Customer Center for a variety of DC Water assistance options.

OPC is scheduling in-person appointments to help residents navigate the different, sometimes complicated application processes. Call OPC at (202) 727-3071 for assistance.

The Sustainable Switch: Electric Lawn Care

By Guest Contributor Kalen Roach, DC Sustainable Energy Utility Marketing & Communications Manager

As homeowners seek eco-friendly alternatives to gas lawn equipment, electric lawn equipment has become increasingly popular. Here are some key benefits of switching from gas to electric lawn care, and how it can positively affect both the environment and your daily life.

Environmental Friendliness: Electric lawn mowers have minimal, negative environmental impact. Unlike gas-powered mowers, they produce zero emissions and less noise, contributing to cleaner air and a quieter environment while reducing carbon footprints.

Cost Savings: Although electric mowers may have a higher upfront cost, they save money in the long run. They don’t require gasoline, oil changes, or spark plug replacements, leading to significantly lower maintenance costs. Moreover, electricity is generally cheaper than gasoline, making each mowing session more cost-effective. Over time, savings on fuel and maintenance can offset the initial investment.

Convenience: Electric mowers are lightweight, compact, and easy to maneuver, making them more suitable for homeowners of all ages and abilities. No more gas engine complexities–with the push of a button, you can effortlessly start and operate an electric mower, saving time and effort.

Improved Safety: Electric mowers are generally safer than gas mowers. They eliminate the risk of fuel spills, which can be hazardous to both humans and the environment. Many electric mowers also feature an instant shut-off option, allowing you to quickly stop the blades in an emergency.

 

Make the switch today with a DCSEU rebate of up to $75 off an electric push mower and $500 off an electric riding mower.