Message from the Chair

Active Power - Newletter November 2016 

Utility billing is important . . .  it documents and quantifies utilities’ delivery of the service we want and need. Such importance demands utility bills should meet some key criteria.

  1. Utilities should design and present bills that are easy for customers to read and understand.
  2. Bill should provide customers with timely and accurate data.
  3. They should carefully display corrections and adjustments, and,
  4. stop shifting between "real" and "estimated readings that confuse what we are getting, when we get it and if it paid or owed.
  5. Finally, bills should ensure questions, answers, and problems by trained personnel on phone or in person. 

Too often our utilities fail to meet these criteria. It's great the PSC has staff who can help, but we really need the PSC to stop the utilities getting away with poor-to-nonexistent customer service.

The US Census has a benchmark, that US households pay no more than 6% of their disposable income for power, water and sewer services, and telecommunications. 

All Public Service Commissions claim their rate structures established by our Public Service Commissions assure this. 

However, the CUB learned from Jacqui Patterson, the NAACP’s Director for Climate and Enviromental Justice programs, low-income communities and communities of color pay far more for power, and water, than other ratepayers. 

Why? 

These households tend to live in housing that areun-weatherized, and consume far more power for their homes. They live in multi-family buildings notorious for faulty metering, further increasing their consumption. They typically have old appliances and HVAC systems that are very inefficient, wasting more power and customer moneey. Because their homes consume more energy, their power bills are far higher. So much so they are often unable to pay them in full, and, in consquence may continually face disconnection, eventually eviction and homelessness. 

Roger Colton an economist with Boston Public Finance and Economics firm, Fisher, Sheehan and Colton, has been working on solutions on utility “affordability" for 30 years. For the last 15, Colton’s been tracking US Census data to show just how much more than the 6% benchmark low-income families actually spend  on a state-by-state basis.

Colton calls this “the energy affordability gap”: you can learn more about what it is, and explore state-by-state comparisons and maps.  See 

A May 8, 2016 article in Inside Energy (“High Utility Costs Force Hard Decisions for the Poor” by Dan Boyce and Jordan Wirfs-Brock) presents some chilling cases-in-point; here's the article: http://insideenergy.org/2016/05/08/high-utility-costs-force-hard-decisions-for-the-poor/

I am currently reading documents from a recent case of Colton’s in conjunction with the Public Advocate for Community Legal Services, Inc. of Philadelphia, PA. 

They succeeded getting the city’s City Council to adopt legislation amending Philadelphia’s Water Rate Affordability program to deliver affordable bills as a percentage (between 2% and 4%) of household income, for low-income families. The amendments also remove a number of the barriers for the applications process for this program. 

In this case, Colton’s testimony concluded: . . . in sum, "affordable utility service generates public benefits that without question are above and beyond the benefits to indvidual households.”

Like Philadelphia, DC can do better for its ratepayers exploring innovative regulatory programs such as this one. Colton's point is not that jurisdictions don't have programs, like DC's rate, it's that it may be hard for those who should be eligible to get access to them. Frequently the programs are not structured to solve the cycles of energy insecurity these households face. 

What can the CUB do? We learn from and collaborate with experts such as Colton, and our Philadelphia counterpart, Rob Ballenger, their Community Legal Services Public Advocate. We can reach out to Jacqui Patterson on her offer to continue working with us to address the needs of District families and children who remain mired in energy dependency.

TheCUB Board and Members wish you well and Holiday Greetings.

Sincerely,


Robert Robinson
Chair, DC Consumer Utility Board
dcconsumerutilityboard.org

Message from the Chair

Welcome to the first newsletter of the DC Consumer Utility Board, AKA “The CUB” or “dcCUB.” In each newsletter, we will feature updates on what’s going on with the utilities in DC, share resources and feature events, photos and stories.

DC CUB’s September 17 kickoff event at UDC Law School introduced new voices and ideas. It reunited many(over one-hundred) who have struggled for ratepayers, taxpayers and residents for years.

Councilmember Cheh was joined by Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, who stopped by to join us. People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Fry, offered a fine historical overview of the CUB, and, with Dean Shelley Broderick of the UDC School of Law gave a warm welcome. 

Rick Powell, whom many credit as the prime mover in the CUB’s creation attended, and OPC’s first liaison to the CUB, Elizabeth Evans. As did former CUB Chair A. Bernard Jones. DC’s activist organizations were amply represented from DC SUN, Sierra Club, DC Chapter, and DC Climate Action to the DC Electrical Association. Former People’s Counsel Betty Noel did us the honor of attending!

Appreciation to all those who came, joined the CUB, contributed and volunteered. 

Mary Cheh shared what, for me, was key: the lasting value of legislative reform:

“Every time I reminded the PSC of the threat of global warming, I’d hear, ‘But Councilmember Cheh, nothing in the Code requires us to protect the environment.’ So I put that language in. Now I begin by reading from the Code . . .’ “

Jacqui Patterson took us on a road trip through a landscape of environmental injustice. It’s our toxic legacy to every community of color and low-income community, hidden in plain view. Look no further than River Terrace, Kenilworth-Parkside and Kingman Park. 

Jessica Azulay, showed that winning the battles of Distributed Generation begins by reforming current regulatory processes, that place ratepayers at an untenable disadvantage.

DC’s grass roots, led by Councilmember Cheh, have a vision for a clean and affordable energy future driven by locally-produced efficiency and renewables. 

The DC Department of Energy and the Environment has a plan. But no plan to implement it.

 

Its draft Comprehensive Energy Plan (five years in the making has been released). The document contains no implementation strategy. Nor does it align DC government tax and financial, regulatory, programmatic and legislative policies to incentivize a strategy. DOEE’s energy initiative to date consists of reprogramming $50 million of ratepayers funding into the General Fund for what -- they won’t tell us.
There will be rate hikes. Despite the fact that the DC Public Service Commission failed to refute the arguments made by its staff in PSC Order No. 17947. 

Pepco’s $85+ million rate hike is in play (FC No. 1139), and ratepayers don’t have to fret about a planning process, because there is none. We depend on fossil and nuclear fuels: they cost more, the utility produces them, we will have to pay more, the utility will make more money by using them.

Still more rate hikes.

Washington Gas Light Company, after having long ignored its infrastructure, has a proposal. They want to build more pipeline, but they want to keep it leaky because we reward them for leakage — about 3% of what they supply. And they want us to pay putting pipelines directly into apartments in multifamily buildings. Believe it. 

Then there’s PSC Formal Case No. 1130, the “Modernization of the Electric Distribution System for Improved Sustainability”. The stakeholders have no seat at the table, there are no goals or objectives and no time-and-action plan. 

And more rate hikes.

David Freeman, our hero and the doyen of Renewable Energy made the most sensible recommendation I’ve heard this year. “Pass a law that requires the local government to reduce its consumption of fossil and nuclear fuels by at least 3% annually.” 

That would sure be one way to kick a DC Comprehensive Energy Plan into gear.

Postscripts:

  1. The Mayor’s Office of Talent and Appointments rejected two names (Scott Strauss and Susana Chu) put forward by the PowerDC coalition to replace PSC Commissioner Joanne Doddy Fort, whose appointment expired this past June. Who stands for consumers? I’ve written to the Mayor asking her to reinstate the process of allowing the CUB to interview finalists for appointments to the Public Service Commission and the People’s Counsel. 
  2. On October 15, I arrived at the Thurgood Marshall Academy at 11:00 a.m. to testify before the PSC on Formal Case No. 1137, the Washington Gas Light Company rate increase (above). The hearing was scheduled to take place from 10:00 - 12:00 p.m. But PSC members Fort and Phillips ran out of witnesses and adjourned the meeting at 10:45 a.m. and left.


 

Media Advisory

September 6, 2016

Contact: Larry Martin, lmartindc@gmail.com, 202.308.5642

DC CONSUMER UTILITY BOARD PUBLIC MEETING ON ENERGY DEMOCRACY

Community leaders rededicate DC Consumer Utility Board (CUB) to public interest advocacy on utility policy, regulation and rates

WASHINGTON, DC – The DC CUB announces a public meeting to build energy democracy in the District.  Energy democracy is the direct involvement of communities in the innovation, planning, and decision making around energy initiatives, including locally owned renewable energy projects, efficiency improvements to making homes more comfortable and healthier, economically and racially just energy policy, challenging the monopoly control of utility companies, developing resilient community micro-grids, and the transition to more efficient, cleaner and renewable power.

The CUB Public Meeting is September 17, 2016 from 1 to 4pm at the UDC Law School, located at 4340 Connecticut Ave. NW.  New CUB Chair Robert Robinson states “The mission of the CUB is to advocate for fair, transparent, affordable, and progressive reforms for D.C.’s electric, water, natural gas, telecommunications, and other public services in a manner that prioritizes public engagement for public benefit.” DC CUB was formed in 1978.  The September 17 meeting is a rededication of the CUB to its mission, and re-launching of the organization as a 501(c)(3) organization – formally incorporated in the District earlier this year.

The CUB Public Meeting program will feature speakers, a workshop and membership call to action.  Speakers include DC Ward 4 Councilmember Mary Cheh, Jacqui Patterson, NAACP Environmental Justice Projects, and Jessica Azulay, Alliance for A Clean Energy Economy, New York.  The workshop, titled “Beyond Exelon . . . Toward Utility Democracy and Justice for All” will be facilitated by Jerome S. Paige, Ph.D,  CUB Board Member,  and Principle, Jerome S. Paige & Associates, LLC.  He will engage meeting participants in exploring their activist and collaborative role in shaping public utilities and services in the District.  The energy that was unleashed through POWER DC against the takeover of Pepco by Exelon demonstrates DC citizen’s depth of awareness of how the control of our public utilities can affect our quality of life. With this meeting we aim to move Beyond Exelon.

 

###

The Consumer Utility Board Receives Sparkplug Grant

On June 15, 2016, the Sparkplug Foundation of New York announced that the DC Consumer Utility Board (the “”CUB”) received a startup grant. The grant will be used to help the organization design and develop a working web site and organize a series of informational workshops throughout the city’s eight wards so DC residents can understand how to demand that their regulators hold the utilities they fund accountable.

For over a decade, local grassroots  in DC have organized and enacted legislation to open access to the use of Conservation, Efficiency and Renewables to conserve and provide power and water locally ,” noted CUB Chair Robert Robinson, “with this grant, the CUB begins educating and informing resident that they have better choices. They do not have to accept utility and regulatory models that boil down to larger and more frequent rate hikes, poor service delivery and zero competition for essential technologies such as broadband that have been promised for over a decade. Offering DC residents a utility future that is unaffordable is unsustainable.