The OPC Connection - February 2022

A Note from ​​Your People's Counsel

Sandra Mattavous-Frye

Performing for the People

Another OPC Performance Oversight Hearing is in the books. On February 23, 2022, at the DC Council Committee on Business and Economic Development, I highlighted OPC’s accomplishments and the tangible benefits we provided to District utility consumers during fiscal year 2021. I am proud of how OPC staff stepped up to ensure continuous advocacy, education, and protection of DC residents despite the lingering challenges resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In my testimony, I noted that OPC successfully fought for the extension of strong protections in Council legislation to mitigate the financial impact of the pandemic on ratepayers. I mentioned that in anticipation of the end of the utility disconnection moratorium, we expanded our outreach to inform consumers of STAY DC and other bill payment assistance programs.

The Consumer and Water Services Divisions were busy handling almost 3,000 consumer complaints and attending more than 900 virtual outreach events.

I discussed how we have enhanced our Climate Change Section’s advocacy on environmental injustice and racial equity at the Public Service Commission and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and emphasized that collaboration among all stakeholders and parties is critical to achieving our climate change goals.

My testimony detailed the broad range of matters our Litigation Services Division worked on, delivering measurable benefits and savings to consumers. OPC attorneys addressed consumer concerns about Washington Gas leaks, Pepco interconnection, and residential property damage from Pepco construction, as well as issues at FERC and PJM Interconnection that affect the cost of energy.

Now, in this fiscal year 2022, OPC will continue its longstanding commitment to addressing racial and socioeconomic inequities, affordability, and access, among other issues.

Read my full testimony on opc-dc.gov. Go to 47:40 here to watch my remarks and at 1:44:00 on this link, hear the public witnesses.

Often, when consumers contact OPC to learn about assistance to help them pay overdue utility bills, we learn they also have other financial concerns. That's why we stay knowledgeable about the latest non-utility related relief programs in order to make referrals.

For example, the District's Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) helps income-eligible residents facing housing emergencies. ERAP provides funding for overdue rent, including late fees and court cost if the qualified household is facing eviction. The program also supports security deposits and first month’s rent for residents moving into new apartments. The amount of assistance depends on household income, available resources, and is subject to certain limitations.

ERAP may provide up to five times the rental amount based on an apartment or house's location and size. Eligible households may apply for ERAP once within a 12-month period.

To view eligibility requirements and apply for ERAP, click this link.

Karen Wilson, Greater Washington Urban League Manager of the Emergency Utility Assistance Program

With the GWUL since 1990, Ms. Wilson grew up near West Virginia State University, and earned a degree in social work there before landing in the District in the early 1980s. Today, she partners with OPC to assist hundreds of consumers in need of emergency utility assistance.

When COVID-19 forced service agencies to shut down, they had to quickly come up with plans to stay connected to constituents.

How did you overcome the challenges?

The pandemic forced us to overhaul our systems for remote work. We’re talking laptops, cell phones, and updated websites. Then, our staff had to play catch up. Our residents needed help. I now have an assistant who helps with intake. Our processing is much smoother.

Which utilities represented the highest requests for assistance?

At the start of the pandemic, Pepco customers requested the most emergency assistance. Just before Thanksgiving, requests began to pick up. Over the last two months, intake has more than doubled.

How’s the partnership between OPC and GWUL?

It really works. With OPC’s referrals, we get to help more DC residents. And if I need assistance, OPC is always there, [especially] Ms. Linda Jefferson. GWUL and OPC do a great job of not only assisting consumers, but more important, both OPC and GWUL are good at following up.

What can residents do to ease the process when requesting assistance?

It’s important to gather and sendall documents to us at the same time. When an application is incomplete, the back and forth slows the process.

What do you like most about your job?

It’s a good feeling to assist people in emergency situations. Some people are embarrassed to ask for help but I let our clients know that it's a human thing.

How do you maintain self-care?

I just keep an upbeat attitude, stay positive, and pray. I like going to the beach, listening to music, and attending the DC Jazz Festival. I’m the one and only auntie for my nieces and nephews. They keep me smiling.

Visit Greater Washington Urban League's website for utility assistance and its other programs.

Emerging Solar Technologies

The pandemic did not quell solar energy's emergence as one of the go-to energy sources of now and in the future. This year heralds many new and creative solar energy technologies shaping-up to be the impetus for this growing, important, and attractive energy source. Noteworthy are five technologies to watch:

  • Floating solar farms: “Floatvoltaics” are made to float on bodies of water, such as reservoirs or dams.
  • Building-Integrated Photovoltaics: This is a seamless blending of the BIPV into the roofs, canopies, curtain walls, facades and skylight systems of building architecture.
  • Solar Skins: Wrapping or integrating solar panels into the initial custom designs of a building, commonly compared to advertisements that are displayed on buses.
  • Solar Fabric: This technology is exploring adding solar power to fabric, by embedding it into clothing, awnings, curtains, etc.
  • Photovoltaics Solar Noise Barriers: “PCNB” involves generating solar energy from barriers to highway traffic noise. Experts say the numerous traffic noise barriers throughout the United States offer thousands of miles of opportunities for this emerging technology to be an important solar energy generation source.

The listed examples are all expected to yield tremendous energy savings and positive environmental benefits, resulting in greener, brighter, and cleaner energy well into the future.

Sources: U. S. Department of Energy, Power Magazine, Solar Review & Energy Sage.

Environmental Activist Catherine Coleman Flowers

“Catherine is a shining example of the power individuals have to make a measurable difference by educating, advocating, and acting on environmental issues . . . [She is a] firm advocate for the poor, who recognizes that the climate crisis disproportionately affects the least wealthy and powerful among us.” —Al Gore, 45th U.S. Vice President

A 2020 MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow, Flowers is Vice Chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and author of “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret.”

A 2020 MacArthur Genius Grant Fellow, Flowers is Vice Chair of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council and author of “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret.”

Click here to see Coleman’s comments upon recognition as a 2021 Taking Nature Black National Environmental Champion.

Lewis Latimer (1848 – 1928)
Filaments inside the light bulb,
Forerunner to the air conditioner

Dr. Shirley Jackson (1946 - )
Caller ID, Call waiting

Frederick McKinley Jones
(1893 - 1961)
Innovations in refrigeration

Dr. Gladys West (1930 - )
GPS/Global Positioning System

OPC is advocating for consumers in the following cases:

CC9075256, Consumer Complaint:

On January 14, 2022, OPC filed an Application for Reconsideration of Order No. 21081 on behalf of a consumer. The matter was filed regarding safety issues with a Washington Gas meter. In an earlier proceeding, the PSC sided with Washington Gas and against the consumer.

Formal Case No. 1154: Washington Gas Light Company’s Request for Approval of a Revised Accelerated Pipe Replacement Plan

On January 24, OPC filed a Motion to Compel Discovery Response on Washington Gas.

GD2019-04-M: Implementation of the 2019 Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act Compliance Requirements

On February 10, OPC filed a Joint Reply to Pepco’s January 31, 2022, Motion for Leave to Submit Comments and Comments on the CEAIWG Report.

Formal Case No. 1156: Pepco’s Application for Authority to Implement a Multiyear Rate Plan for Electric Distribution Service

On February 14, OPC filed for a Second Unopposed Motion for Enlargement of Time to Submit Discovery Request related to Pepco’s 120 Day Compliance Filing. This motion was filed because OPC and Pepco were not able to meet prior to the previous deadline due to scheduling conflicts.

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