The Office of the People’s Counsel for the District of Columbia (OPC) is pleased to contribute to The Washington Informer’s Sustainability Supplement in Observance of Earth Day.  I welcome this opportunity to highlight the work of OPC’s new Climate Action Section. I also note that seeking solutions to environmental injustice has been a cornerstone of OPC’s work. The environmental community might recall that over a decade ago, OPC led the battle to shut down Pepco’s Benning Road Power Plant in Northeast which was emitting toxic pollutants into nearby neighborhoods.

In 2020, I launched the Climate Action Section to ensure that the District of Columbia meets its climate change goals in a way that equitably benefits electric, gas, and water consumers in all eight wards. Climate change is already harming District residents — we are experiencing hotter summers, more extreme storms, and increased flooding. And conditions are projected to get worse with low income and communities of color suffering some of the worst impacts. With swift and continuous action, however, we all can do our part to prevent the most harmful effects of climate change in the years to come. For this reason, OPC supports the District’s climate change goals: reducing the pollution that causes climate change—called greenhouse gases–in half by 2032 and 100% by 2050.

We will need to make big changes to meet these big goals, and OPC is advocating that the changes benefit all District consumers. Residents in all eight wards should have access to new technologies and clean energy options like modern electric appliances and solar power that can help them reduce energy usage and lower their utility bills through energy efficiency and conservation measures. Changes to utility systems to reduce climate change pollution must be just and not increase the energy burden on ratepayers, particularly for low- and moderate-income households. The costs of meeting the District’s climate change goals must be affordable for gas, electric, and water consumers; and must address ratepayers’ needs.

OPC’s Climate Action Section is advocating for affordable, equitable, and reliable climate change solutions before the DC Public Service Commission, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, and regional utility-related entities. Our work has included advocating for expanded access to microgrids—local electric systems that can both reduce climate change pollution and allow critical facilities like hospitals to keep running during power outages. OPC also advocated to allow residents with rooftop solar to store the energy generated in batteries for use when the sun is not shining, which provides emergency back up and increases the amount of clean energy available.

Moreover, OPC is advocating for the utilities to have effective plans to reduce climate change pollution. OPC believes it should be standard practice for all utility rate cases and project proposals such as infrastructure upgrades to identify any impacts on climate change, including the costs and benefits of such proposals, and any project impacts on social and economic equity. This analysis will allow the Public Service Commission to make more informed decisions about new proposals.

OPC will educate consumers to ensure they understand the District’s plans to shift from dirty fossil fuel to clean green energy. As we all work together for “Restoration and Resolutions to Environmental Injustice,” OPC will continue to advocate for safe, affordable, and reliable utility services that contribute to a sustainable and healthy environment for DC residents in all eight wards.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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