The OPC CONNECTION - June 2018

 

A Note from Your People's Counsel

As the summer season is here, you will notice increased sightings of OPC outreach staff members in your communities. Visiting civic associations, advisory neighborhood commissions and various community meetings is something that OPC is happy to do year-round. However, we particularly take advantage of the warm weather to step up our appearances at outdoor events like farmer’s markets, community fairs and park celebrations.

“OPC in Your Neighborhood” is the Office’s initiative designed to meet people where they live, share information about our services and educate consumers about ways to save energy and money on utility bills. At some of our table set-ups you won’t just see the smiling faces of OPC people (and our bright purple bags). Government partners, including the DC Sustainable Energy Utility, the District Department of Energy & Environment and the Public Service Commission will be with us onsite to talk about how their agencies also serve consumers. Look for us at locations like the Department of Employment Services and DC recreations centers.

OPC welcomes all opportunities to “reach out and touch” DC residents in all eight wards. If you would like OPC to visit your neighborhood or organization, please reach out to our Consumer Services Division at 202.727.3071. Enjoy your summer!

On June 13, 2018, the Public Service Commission convened both a public interest hearing and a community hearing to consider the Unanimous Settlement Agreement filed in Formal Case No. 1142—the AltaGas-WGL Holdings merger. During the public interest hearing, the Commissioners asked clarifying questions regarding several settlement terms, including one-time bill credits, environmental obligations, workforce development, and network safety and reliability. During the community hearing, several community members testified about the proposed merger’s impact on themselves and the District’s economy. After reviewing the record evidence and community comments, the Commission will issue a decision approving, modifying, or rejecting the settlement in the coming days.

There has been “water, water everywhere,” as the region has been deluged with record setting rainfall this spring. However, the talk about water hasn’t just centered on rain water. There has been a lot of news coverage about high water bills and what can be done to address consumer concerns.

Mayor Muriel Bowser and the DC Council have proposed remedial measures, including adding $13 million to the fiscal year 2019 general budget dedicated to rate relief for DC Water customers. By law, OPC is the advocate for electric, natural gas and local telephone consumers. However, pending Council legislation would expand OPC’s authority to represent water consumers. Therefore, we thought this would be a good time to clarify OPC’s current involvement in resolving consumer disputes with DC Water billing or other water and sewer-related issues.

OPC does not have jurisdiction in any aspect of DC Water’s operations. The Office does, in fact, receive frequent calls from consumers seeking our help and we currently refer them to DC Water for resolution.

When asked about any proposed measures that would authorize OPC to have an official role in water proceedings, The People’s Counsel has gone on the record as saying that OPC is honored that the Council has confidence in the Office’s advocacy. We are reviewing the proposed legislation to determine what would be the consumer impact and benefit of an expanded role for OPC; could OPC materially improve the process; and, to what extent would additional resources be required? We look forward to discussions with the Council about the pending bill. A public hearing is scheduled for July 12th.

OPC always seizes upon opportunities to engage in regional and national conversations to control and bring down energy costs for DC consumers.

For example, People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye and OPC staff recently met with senior officials from PJM--which stands for its original member states, Pennsylvania/New Jersey/Maryland--to discuss reforms to the way wholesale energy prices are calculated. PJM is the regional transmission and wholesale market operator that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity to the District and 13 states. PJM is concerned that energy resources that enhance reliability, particularly when the grid is strained to respond to extreme weather, are not being appropriately and transparently compensated.

OPC agrees that while prices need to be transparent, and electricity generators should be compensated for what they provide, any reforms must target specific issues affecting reliability and must be done in as cost-effective manner as possible. OPC is particularly concerned about any additional costs to ratepayers these reforms may have when PJM has 21.5 percent additional energy above of its normal needs in reserves and well above its target of about 16 percent reserves. OPC will carefully review any proposed reforms for their impact on ratepayers.

PJM recently announced the results of its three-year energy auction, known as the Base Residual Auction. For the region that includes the District, prices nearly doubled to $140.00/MegaWatt-day. While prices have historically fluctuated, OPC is concerned that this price spike may be the result of aggressive bidding activities by utilities.

OPC believes, and has told PJM, that prices should reflect the services ratepayers are receiving not the gamesmanship of a few utilities. On a more positive note, OPC is pleased to see an increase in the number of renewable energy resources selected in the auction, including solar, demand response and wind – a development that benefits both ratepayers, District based energy resources and the environment.

A possible federal bailout of failing coal and nuclear power plants is generating much discussion. Although a formal order has not been issued, proposals have included requiring regional grid operators, like PJM, which serves the District and 13 states, to purchase more expensive energy from certain coal and nuclear facilities that cannot currently sell their power in the competitive market. Additionally, FirstEnergy, an Ohio-based utility which participates in the PJM market, asked the U.S. Department of Energy to provide subsidies for three nuclear facilities it says it will otherwise need to close. Those supporting such action claim it is necessary to protect the resilience of the electric grid – that is the grid’s ability to recover from a major disruption like a cyber-attack or hurricane.

OPC strongly opposes any federal intervention in the energy market that would raise prices for consumers while failing to protect the grid. As PJM has noted, the current electric grid is extremely resilient. The retirement of certain facilities will not negatively impact that resilience as they will be replaced by newer, cheaper, and cleaner facilities. However, requiring the purchase of energy from expensive and inefficient facilities will result in an immediate price increase for consumers. Moreover, this requirement will discourage investment in renewable energy and other resources of the future.

That is why OPC has joined with several consumer entities in opposing FirstEnergy’s request for relief. People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye also sent a letter to the White House stating the benefits that competitive energy markets have brought to consumers - including billions of dollars in savings and a cleaner, more efficient, more diverse, and more resilient generation fleet. OPC will continue to fight for competitive markets that benefit DC consumers and against counter-productive bailouts.

This month’s employee spotlight focuses on Pamela Nelson, who spearheads OPC’s Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Section (EES). A District resident since 1980, “Pam” is originally from Guyana, South America. After obtaining her undergraduate degree in Ottawa, Canada, she launched a career in banking and real estate sales, and marketing before joining OPC in 2000. She also went on to achieve her M.A. at Bowie State University.

Since joining OPC, Pam has introduced and led key EES initiatives such as OPC’s “Energy Efficiency Workshop: Keeping it Simple and Practical,” Understanding Your Utility Bill and training for consumer outreach staff to educate District residents. She speaks to faith-based groups and small business owners about ways to make their buildings more energy efficient. Pam also is a key participant in both internal and external working groups involving energy efficiency.

In her spare time, Pam enjoys live theater, live jazz and blues music. She says she is always on-the-go and loves to stay active. An avid exercise and outdoor enthusiast, Pam especially loves nature walks and hiking. The Ward 5 resident is a strong proponent of maintaining a holistic approach to life by routinely eating a clean and nutritious diet. Pam also likes to travel and has taken numerous trips to Africa, Europe, the Caribbean and South America. When she is not traveling the world or in the gym, Pam gains satisfaction from volunteering with Reading Partners and the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), through which she supports neglected and abused children in the foster care system.

On June 14, Laurence Jones, the Consumer Services Division’s Project Supervisor, presented an overview of the District’s changing utility markets to members of the Ward 4 Mini-Commission on Aging. More than 40 Ward 4 residents attended the meeting, held in the 4 th District Police Precinct in NW. Jones provided background on OPC’s multi-faceted role as utility consumer advocate, then presented overviews of the WGL-AltaGas merger, OPC’s interaction on behalf of consumers with Third Party Suppliers (TPS), and an update on the proposed “DC Water Consumer Protection Amendment Act of 2018.”

A very lively question and answer session followed. Mini-Commission members were concerned about the possibility of increasing WGL rates and declining quality of service after the merger. Consumers expressed frustration with the marketing practices of third party suppliers (TPS) by phone, mail and in apartment buildings. Attendees were also quite disturbed about increasing water bills. Jones described OPC’s merger policy position, its TPS consumer advocacy program, and the July hearing, to be chaired by Councilmember Mary Cheh, on the proposed DC Water legislation.

Several meeting attendees expressed concern about the DC Public Service Commission providing not enough notice of the community hearing schedule. Jones encouraged Mini-Commission members to be active participants in the utility regulatory process. Mini-Commission Chairperson Veronica Ingram expressed appreciation for OPC’s consumer advocacy and asked that OPC continue to provide updates to Commission members.

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

FC1150: Pepco's Rate Application & FC1151: WGL's Application for Approval of Reduction of Distribution Rates

OPC filed testimony to explain OPC's position on the Joint Motion for Approval of Nonunanimous Full Settlement Agreement and Stipulation ("NSA") that was filed with the Commission on April 17, 2018 (as corrected on April 25, 2018).

Namely, the NSA reduces Pepco's current revenue requirement by $24.1 million and establishes a moratorium on proposals to change Pepco' s revenue requirement until May 1, 2019.

PEPACR2018-01: Annual Consolidated Report

The Pepco Annual Consolidated Report (ACR) provides statistics and planning documents related to the Company’s System Plan, Comprehensive Plan, Productivity Improvement Plan, and Manhole Event Report.

On May 15, 2018, OPC filed a Motion for Enlargement of Time, to request additional time to obtain technical consulting services, which, pursuant to D.C. law, can only occur through a procurement process specified therein.

CC9075234: Consumer Complaint

OPC is representing a consumer who is protesting the manner in which Pepco limits the sizing of a residential solar array to 100% of the prior year’s usage. The consumer believes the governing provision’s ambiguity lies in his favor.

On May 21, OPC filed a Statement of Proposed Issues and Order of Procedure in the matter.

FC1126: In the Matter of OPC's Complaint Against Washington Gas Light Company Regarding Its Unlawful Compensation of Competitive Service Providers in Violation of Its Rate Schedule No. 5.

Washington Gas Light Company ("WGL") seeks clarification of the applicability, if any, of D.C. Code§ 41-108" before disbursing $522,189 remaining from the $2.4 million it was ordered to refund to WGL customers in 2016.

On May 21, OPC Filed a Response in Support of WGL’s Application for Clarification of Order No. 19324.

FC1142: In the Matter of the Merger Application of AltaGas Ltd. and WGL Holdings, Inc.

OPC filed testimony to explain its position on the Unanimous Full Settlement Agreement and Stipulation in the merger of AltaGas and WGL that was filed with the Commission on May 8, 2018.

The Settlement Agreement sets forth the non-severable terms, conditions, and commitments that, because it is unanimous and unopposed, if approved, will resolve all issues in Formal Case No. 1142 with regards to the proposed merger.

On May 25, OPC filed Testimony in Support of the Unanimous Settlement Agreement and Stipulation.

OPC will be out at the following events:

Minnesota Ave. Farmers Market
Location:3924 Minnesota Ave. NE
Date:Thursday, June 28
Time:3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Monroe St. Farmers Market
Location:716 Monroe St. NE
Date:Saturday, July 7
Time:10:00 am – 12:00 pm

Project Empowerment Department of Employment Services
Location:4058 Minnesota Ave. NE
Date:Thursday, July 19
Time:9:45 am -10:00 am

Glover Park Farmers Market
Location:1819 35th St. NW
Date:Saturday, July 21
Time:10:00 am - 12:00 pm

Columbia Heights Farmers Market
Location:14th St. and Park Rd. NW
Date:Saturday July 25
Time:5:00 pm - 7:00 pm

New Macedonia Baptist Church 60th Anniversary Block Party
Location:4115 Alabama Avenue SE,
Date:Saturday July 28
Time:12:00 - 5:00 pm