A Note from Your People's Counsel
Yes, UCAN! Yes, UCAN! Yes, UCAN! That’s the chant that followed the introduction of the DC Utility Consumer Advocacy Network or UCAN on September 19, 2018. I am pleased to welcome the members of UCAN as a new body to help OPC serve DC utility consumers. UCAN is made of District residents and stakeholders representing a broad spectrum of neighborhoods, industries, and interests.
As I comment on Facebook, OPC has always operated under the premise that consumers must have a place at the table in all utility proceedings. UCAN members will educate OPC staff on utility issues affecting their neighborhoods, keep residents informed about important utility matters, host community events, and engage in utility advocacy, including testifying before the Public Service Commission, DC Council and other forums. They will provide the guidance OPC staff needs as a basis for policy formulation and legal representation.
UCAN members, pictured below, were selected based on expertise in their fields and representation of the District of Columbia’s diversity. I thank these consumers for stepping up to serve, and look forward to working with the Utility Consumer Advocacy Network in carrying out OPC’s mission to advocate, educate and protect utility consumers in the District of Columbia.
Click on the cover to see the Fiscal Year 2017 OPC Annual Report: “Protecting Consumers, Easing the Energy Burden, and Promoting a Safe and Sustainable Environment.”
OPC follows the proceedings of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to stay on top of developments that could affect landline telephone consumers in the District. During the June 2018 open Commission meeting, the FCC approved new rules to help protect consumers from two illegal and harmful practices. One harmful practice is slamming: changing a consumer’s telephone service provider without their permission. The other is cramming: including unauthorized charges on a consumer’s phone bill.
The Commission’s rules now explicitly prohibit placing unauthorized charges on consumers’ phone bills and are expected to deter wireless and wireline providers from cramming.
Under the new slamming rules, service providers that are found to be abusing the third-party verification process will be suspended from using that process for five years. Suspended providers will need to rely on other approved methods to verify customer switches. This action will discourage providers from abusing the system. It will also create an extra check on providers with a history of abuse.
The Commission’s rules now include a ban on misrepresentations made during sales calls. The revised rules make it clear that when a company misrepresents the information it provides to a consumer, any authorization given by that consumer to switch telephone companies is invalidated.
For more information, see the Slamming and Cramming Report and Order here.
Introducing a new feature called: “The Solar Connection,” to shine the light on developments in solar energy. In this edition, we feature a guest article written by Amir Yazdi, Assistant General Counsel with the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA).
The number of residential solar systems has grown rapidly over the past decade. Costs have dropped, and new ownership and financing options enable more DC residents to choose solar. We at the Solar Energy Industries Association, the national trade group for the solar industry, believe that information is critical to consumer satisfaction.
For many consumers, solar is a new choice, which is why SEIA launched a consumer education campaign to help consumers understand solar and simplify the process of going solar. We have published guides on solar, disclosure forms that summarize important contract terms, and a code of ethics for our members. These resources are available for free at www.seia.org/consumers.
Over the next few months, the Association will dive deeper into topics such as how solar works, your options for going solar, shopping tips, and questions to ask a solar company so that DC consumers can become more educated about solar transactions.
For example, did you know that today, most residential solar systems are Photovoltaic (PV) systems which generate electricity through two main components: 1) panels that convert sunlight to electricity; and 2) inverters that convert direct current electricity into alternating current electricity for your home?
SEIA will be offering more tips about ways to go solar and be a smart shopper while you are at it!
- In advocating for benefits for Washington Gas consumers, OPC negotiated a settlement agreement with WGL to reduce its distribution rates by $8.2 million to reflect the reduction in federal corporate taxes in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. That reduction was reflected in your August 2018 billing cycle.
- As a result of the WGL-AltaGas merger, consumers will receive a $150 credit on their September 2018 bill. Consumers with ACH automatic bank/credit card payments who experience any issues with billing should contact OPC’s Consumer Services Division at (202) 727-3071 for assistance.
- OPC ensured that all funds due consumers were returned from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Acts and all money accrued from January 1, 2018 through July 31, 2018--an additional $5.1 million--will be credited to consumers in your December 2018 billing cycle
In response to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) recent order addressing the effect of subsidies on certain types of generation – including renewable resources – OPC partnered with consumer advocates, clean energy advocates, Exelon, and others to develop a set of shared principles that will allow the District to pursue its clean energy goals without the imposition of administratively-determined higher costs on District ratepayers. Under FERC’s order, resources that receive payments, including Renewable Energy Credits, would be subject to a minimum offer price (MOPR) if they participated in PJM Interconnection’s capacity market – the market that ensures future generation availability. FERC also proposed the use of a Resource Specific Fixed Resource Requirement (FRR-RS) as an option for those resources to continue to receive subsidies, while removing themselves from the capacity market and avoiding the MOPR. The Shared Principles developed by OPC and others will:
- Protect ratepayers from paying for duplicate capacity and increased costs that would result from renewable resources being subject to a MOPR
- Preserve the District’s ability to achieve its clean energy goals
- Provide maximum flexibility and value for renewable resources while protecting ratepayers from gaming
- Require FERC to ensure a smooth transition by offering a mechanism that allows for the development of the FRR-RS without forcing ratepayers to pay excess costs in the interim
These Shared Principles will form the basis of OPC’s response to the FERC order which will be filed on October 2, 2018.
OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:
Formal Case No. 1130: Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability Initiative (MEDSIS)
Pursuant to Order 19432, Phase 2 of MEDSIS has begun with the formation of six working groups to aid the Initiative: (1) Data & Info Access (2) Non-wires Alternatives (3) Future Rate Design (4) Customer Impact (5) Microgrids (6) Pilot Projects.
OPC has been actively engaged in the working groups’ meetings, which commenced in August 2018 and are tentatively scheduled to end in mid- January 2019. Working groups with assistance of the facilitator, Smart Electric Alliance Power Alliance, chosen by the Commission, have collaboratively developed charters, goals, and expected outcomes for each working group that take into consideration the MEDSIS Vision Statement and the District’s energy policy goals.
Formal Case No.1017: The Development and Designation of Standard Offer Service in the District of Columbia
On March 1, 2004, the Commission adopted a wholesale model in which Pepco, as the Standard Offer Service (SOS) Administrator, conducts competitive bidding in an auction to obtain third-party contracts to provide SOS for the District. The PSC is required to periodically review the program and make any changes or adjustments as competitive offerings and developments in the District change.
In Order No. 19431, the Commission initiated the 2018 Biennial Review to address specific issues raised in the 2017 review. The new issues identified in Order No. 19431 are complex and numerous. As a result, additional time was needed to provide interested parties a sufficient opportunity to develop thoughtful responses
On August 20, 2018, OPC filed a Motion for Enlargement of Time to Submit Initial and Reply Comments in response to Commission Order No. 19431.
Formal Case No. 1144: Capital Grid Project
On September 27, 2018, OPC filed comments and a comprehensive technical analysis in the accompanying affidavit on Pepco’s revised Capital Grid Project application that the Commission ordered Pepco to file in June. OPC identified several areas of weakness and noncompliance in Pepco’s revised application. Specifically, OPC found that Pepco failed to comply with the PSC’s order directing it to file a revised application, Pepco did not demonstrate the need for a new substation at Mt. Vernon, non-wires and traditional wires alternatives exist that do not require Pepco to build the Mt Vernon substation, and Pepco’s application will not support the integration of distributed energy resources on Pepco’s system.
The Office of the People’s Counsel held “Staff Appreciation Day” on September 25, 2018 to recognize employees for a job well done in carrying out the agency’s mission. People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye said it was important to thank all staff for their hard work and achievements during the 2018 fiscal year. The event also gave the People’s Counsel and division managers an opportunity to talk about their goals, expectations and initiatives for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2018.
A highlight of the day was an awards ceremony that noted outstanding service by staff members (pictured). The “People’s Counsel Award” went to Karen Sistrunk, Jean Gross-Bethel and Laurence Jones. Doxie McCoy, Pamela Nelson and Alya Solomon received the “Game Changer Award.” The “Above and Beyond Award” was given to Erica Bright, Tamika Dodson, Stephen Marencic, Cheryl Morse, and Christopher Sellers. Barbara Burton and Linda Jefferson received the “Good Samaritan Award.” The “Rising Star Award” was given to Denise Blackson, Frederick “Erik” Heinle III and Adrienne Mouton-Henderson. Blackson walked away with two trophies as fellow colleagues voted her to receive the “Staff Choice Award.”
Staff Appreciation Day was a success thanks to the planning committee which included: Dionne Johnson Calhoun (Chair), Eric Coard, Eric Scott, Aaron Ward, CharQuia Barringtine, Denise Blackson, Tamika Dodson, Pamela Nelson, and Alya Solomon. Congratulations to the committee and the award recipients!
After serving on a panel on youth initiatives, People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye is with participants of the Energy, Finance and Health STEM4US! Fest at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference.
DC Department of Energy & Environment’s Andy Oetman briefing OPC staff on RiverSmart programs, which help property owners and nonprofits reduce stormwater runoff
OPC outreach staff welcome DC residents on "PARK(ing) Day" in the 2100 block of Martin Luther King Avenue SE
OPC Consumer Services Specialist, Stephen Marencic shares a light moment with a consumer on PARK(ing) Day in the 1400 block of U Street NW. Launched in San Francisco, CA in 2005 to promote open space and community fellowship, PARK(ing) Day has become an annual worldwide event, turning street parking spaces into pop-up parks for a day. OPC has participated for three years.
Anacostia residents take on the block challenge as they "take a walk in the park" to learn how OPC helps utility consumers.
OPC Consumer Services Director Aaron Ward is all smiles as he shares one of OPC's "purple power" bags with an Anacostia resident.
OPC will be out at the following events:
Glover Park Farmers Market
Location:Hardy Middle School, 1819 35th Street NW
Date:Saturday, Septem 29th
Time:10:00 AM -12:00 PM
ANC 4A Community Meeting
Location:4th District Police Station 6001 Georgia Avenue NW
Date:Tuesday, October 2nd
Consumer Information Distribution
Location:Northeast Library, 330 7th Street NE
Date:Thursday, October 4th
Time:9:30 AM - 1:00 PM
Rhode Island Avenue Fall Festival
Location:Rhode Island Avenue-Between 20th & 24th Streets NE
Date:Saturday, October 6th
Time:10:00 AM – 4:00 PM