Sherice A. Muhammad, ANC 7D-06, speaks to the press about her objection to the Pepco-Exelon merger proposal in front of a Pepco substation in southwest D.C. on Nov. 11. Photo by Roy Lewis
Sherice A. Muhammad, ANC 7D-06, speaks to the press about her objection to the Pepco-Exelon merger proposal in front of a Pepco substation in southwest D.C. on Nov. 11. Photo by Roy Lewis

A group of D.C. community leaders held a news conference to demand a formal investigation of the proposed $6.8 billion merger between utility companies Pepco and Exelon.

A major reason stems from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s changing her stance against the merger after reaching a $25 million deal for Pepco to own the stadium naming rights for the new D.C. United soccer stadium in Southwest at Buzzard Point.

The merger opponents, who spoke Wednesday, Nov. 11, near the future location of the stadium, which is currently a Pepco substation, held a sign that read, “Soccergate: Did Pepco buy Mayor Bowser for $25 million?”

“For many, many months we have been fighting alongside the D.C. government to prevent this merger. This is a complicated deal. Millions and millions of dollars of real estate are at stake,” said Anya Schoolman, executive director for DC Sun, a nonprofit organization that educates city residents about solar energy. “We want to know the connection between the $25 million naming rights deal and the mayor’s change in position on the Exelon merger.”

According to two letters dated Nov. 11 from two nonprofit organizations – Public Citizen of Southeast and Chesapeake Climate Action Network of Takoma Park, Maryland – the groups want the District’s Board of Ethics and Government Accountability to examine whether unethical conduct was carried out by the mayor’s office and wants a Freedom of Information Act request for all correspondence related to the Pepco-Exelon deal.

“When Mayor Muriel Bowser took office, she opposed both the utility merger and the District’s previous intention to sell and/or swap land with Pepco,” according to the letter addressed to the D.C. Board of Ethics and Government Accountability. “On Oct. 6, barely two weeks after the Pepco sponsorship agreement, the mayor announced the merger settlement and her support for the merger between the two giant utility companies … which was in contrast to her previous position.”

Opponents also want the D.C. Council to make the head of city’s Office of the People’s Counsel — a self-governing agency that advocates on behalf of the city’s ratepayers — an independent post. The position is currently nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the city council.

Sherice Muhammad, who chairs the Ward 7D Advisory Neighborhood Commission, said 27 ANCs issued resolutions to oppose the merger. She also hopes D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine intervenes to ensure residents aren’t cheated in the deal and no improprieties happened in the mayor’s office.

Rob Marus, spokesman for the attorney general, declined to comment Monday, Nov. 9, about the allegations.

“What the attorney general is interested in is working with council to strengthen campaign finance laws,” he said.

On the same day of the news conference, Pepco Holdings spokeswoman Myra Oppel issued a statement to stress that the mayor’s office, People’s Counsel, the attorney general and the majority of District Council and residents support the merger.

“It’s clear the small vocal minority who continue to oppose the merger are becoming increasingly desperate in their last-ditch attempts to disrupt it,” she said. “They are deliberately ignoring the facts and will say just about anything to distract from the substance of the merger and to serve their special interests.”

Exelon officials, with the company being based in Chicago, have said the merger would provide nearly $73 million in benefits that include no increase on residential customers through 2019, renewable energy and energy-efficient programs and new jobs.

At-large Councilwoman Elissa Silverman doesn’t support the merger for three reasons: rate increases after 2019, concerns about reliable service and issues with jobs.

“Exelon is based in Chicago. They don’t have any allegiance here,” she said Nov. 13.

The final decision on the merger rests with the District’s Public Service Commission, which reopened the case to consider the settlement as part of the current proceeding.

A final decision could come in early 2016, Silverman said. “We want a good deal … and a decision in the best interest (for the city).”

An additional community hearing on the Exelon-Pepco merger settlement proposal took place on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov.17 and 18, in the Commission Hearing Room, Suite 800, in Northwest.

Written comments or statements can be filed until the close of the record, Friday, Dec. 18, by sending them to Brinda Westbrook-Sedgwick, Commission Secretary, Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, 1325 G Street, NW, Suite 800, Washington, D.C. 20005 or by e-mail at Psc-commissionsecretary@dc.gov

Visit the Commission’s website for copies of the proposed Settlement Agreement at www.dcpsc.org.

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