The utility that supplies residential and commercial customers in the District recently decided to apply to the city’s public service commission for a rate increase. Residents aren’t happy about it.
Pepco, now affiliated with Chicago-based energy giant Exelon, filed for an $85.47 million rate increase with the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia on June 30. A Pepco press release said it has been three years since a rate increase has been requested. However, Donna Cooper, region president, said she understands the uneasiness the increase may cause some customers. “We realize that a rate increase has a direct impact to our customers and so we will continue to work with our customers to identify ways to reduce their energy usage and manage their bills,” she said. “The reliability and infrastructure upgrades that we have made have reduced the number and length of power outages, while delivering improved service to our valued customers.”
The typical bill for a District residential customer would increase by $4.36 per month, the press release said. Exelon would contribute $25.6 million to offset the proposed increase, with the entire amount applied to residential and apartment customers who share a common meter.
Exelon also gave customers a one-time residential credit of $54 in April.
The commission approves or denies a rate increase through a public process that includes public testimony and input from the Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC). The OPC is charged with advocating for District consumers to keep rate increases as low as possible, to ensure reliability and to educate consumers about the actions of utility companies before the commission. If the rate increase is approved, it will not go into effect until summer 2017.
The request for an increase isn’t supported by Andy Litsky, chairman of advisory neighborhood commission 6D in Ward 6. He said he was “appalled” at Pepco’s move. “I received an email on July 1 from Pepco that all chairs of the ANCs got requesting that Pepco representatives be on the agenda at the next meeting,” Litsky told the AFRO. “I told them that I would not allow them to use my commission as a public relations opportunity.”
The rate increase request didn’t surprise Litsky but he didn’t expect it so soon after the public service commission voted to support the merger. Litsky wasn’t in support of the merger, saying that it “was forced up on .”
“D.C. consumers shouldn’t subsidize Exelon’s out-of-state holdings,” he said.
Sandra Matavous-Frye, the People’s Counsel said, in a June 30 press release, that the rate hike will be the largest ever filed in recent memory. “OPC will be vigilant in examining this monumental filing to ensure that any rate increase is based only on the expenses necessary to keep the lights on and not those associated with Exelon’s lengthy journey to merge with Pepco,” she said. “It is alarming that the cost of living and housing trends in the District unfortunately have widened the gap between the haves and have nots. These trends demand that OPC double-down on its mission to protect District residents in every ward in every utility case.
“We must guard against decision-makers imposing policies that are dismissive and insensitive to everyday residential consumers.”
OPC also announced a merger compliance team to measure whether the promised benefits of the Exelon-Pepco merger have materialized and whether to appeal to the D.C. Court of Appeals a recent commission decision denying OPC’s request for reconsideration of the merger.
A spokeswoman for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said that the administration is committed to protecting the interests of District ratepayers. “The Public Service Commission is charged with evaluating utility rate increases,” Interim Communications Director Christina Harper said on behalf of the mayor. “They should limit the Pepco/Exelon request to the mere requirements of the law. And they must apply the $25.4 million that Mayor Bowser negotiated, and they redirected, toward shielding D.C. residential ratepayers from any increase for three years.”
Charles Gaither, a resident of Ward 4, told the AFRO the rate increase didn’t surprise him and agreed with Litsky that the request took place very quickly after the merger. “They are raising the rates because they can,” Gaither said. “Pepco’s reputation is on the line with this. When the power goes out and there is a personal emergency, people will measure Pepco by the way they respond.”