Author: Jacob Fenston      Published: March 23, 2022   DCist

Thousands of solar customers have been short-changed by Pepco, according to the complaint.

Pepco has committed a “pattern of systemic violations” in its handling of solar projects in D.C., potentially overcharging more than 6,000 customers, according to D.C. Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the People’s Counsel. The two offices jointly filed a complaint today detailing the allegations, saying that the power company’s actions are undermining progress toward the District’s clean energy and climate goals.

“Complaints from developers, consumers, and the District of Columbia Department of Energy and Environment staff illuminate that Pepco has repeatedly violated its legal requirements,” reads the filing.

The alleged violations have to do with community solar installations in the District, where residents who may not have a rooftop to put up their own solar panels, or who may not be able to make that investment, can subscribe to a larger solar project. In return, subscribers are supposed to get credits on their Pepco bills, reducing electricity charges depending on how much power their share of the community solar project has generated during a given billing period.

“Pepco’s actions have resulted in higher monthly household energy bills than subscribers should be paying,” the filing says.

Of the 6,200 community solar subscribers in the city, 5,000 are enrolled for free through the Solar For All program, paid for by the District Department of Energy and Environment. The program is available to any resident making less than 80% of the area median income, and promises to cut subscribers’ electricity bills in half for 15 years.

“This program, Solar For All, was developed in order to ensure that more D.C. residents, specifically those who are low-income or don’t have the real estate for solar panels themselves, would be able to join the effort that the District has embarked on to ensure that it meets its clean energy goals moving forward,” said Kathleen Konopka, deputy attorney general who leads the OAG’s public advocacy division.

The complaint was filed with the D.C. Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities in the city. According to the complaint, Pepco has botched its handling of community solar projects in numerous ways. The utility is undercounting solar energy generation at community solar projects, according to the filing, and is “systematically failing” to provide accurate and timely solar credits to customers.

Jamie Caswell, a spokesperson for Pepco, said it was premature to comment on the complaint as the company hadn’t yet had time to fully review it. “We are committed to helping the District achieve its leading climate goals and continue to support our customers with interconnecting their local solar into the local energy grid and helping to connect our customers with community solar projects,” Caswell said in an email to DCist.

The filing details numerous solar facilities where Pepco has installed its own meters to monitor electricity production; some months Pepco has reported zero electricity generated from facilities, despite the facilities’ owners recording continued generation. These discrepancies, the filing says, indicate that Pepco is undercounting solar production, and underpaying solar subscribers.

According to the filing, Pepco undercounted solar generation in DOEE’s Solar For All program by 5,000 megawatt hours between Jan. 202o and Sept. 2021. That’s equivalent to the energy needed to power about 500 homes for one year.

At the same time, according to the filing, Pepco has failed to pay the owners of community solar facilities what they are owed, including the District Department of Energy and Environment. Facility owners are supposed to be compensated for any solar credits that are unsubscribed.

“It wouldn’t be accurate to say it’s kind of a mistake here or there,” said Konopka. “I don’t think we’d be bringing a complaint based on that.”

Pepco’s actions are a setback for D.C.’s efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions, transition to clean energy, and make sure low-income residents benefit from solar, according to the filing. Under D.C. law, 100% of electricity sold in the city must come from clean sources by 2032, including 10% from locally-generated solar. Additionally, the District has a goal to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2032 and to be carbon neutral by 2050. As part of reaching these goals, the District is aiming to enroll 100,000 households in the Solar For All program by 2032 — an objective that could be jeopardized, according to the compliant, if residents lose confidence in the program.

“If unabated, these violations could seriously hamper the District’s ability to meet its goals to expand clean energy use, foster consumer access to renewable energy generation, and reduce energy bills,” says the filing.

Recently, Pepco has also been criticized for levying fees averaging nearly $10,000 on residents installing solar panels on their rooftops, and for bogging down solar projects by being slow to interconnect them to the power grid.

According to the complaint, both the attorney general’s office and the people’s counsel office, an independent agency that advocates for utility ratepayers, have spent the past two years trying to get Pepco to address problems with its handling of community solar, without success.

“After a lot of time of working with Pepco, we’ve brought this case in order to ask the Public Service Commission to open an investigation into this conduct,” says Konopka.

In addition to requesting an investigation the complaint also asks that the commission force Pepco to pay back customers and facility owners who have been shortchanged. The filing also asks that the commission penalize Pepco for “repeatedly violating District law.”