The Office of the People’s Counsel for the District of Columbia (OPC) is pleased to contribute to The Washington Informer’s Sustainability and Energy Supplement in honor of the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, for the third consecutive year. As this 2020 edition focuses on the relationship between health and sustainability, we contend that having clean, affordable and reliable water services sustains life. That premise is especially relevant in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
I welcome this opportunity to highlight OPC’s role as the statutory advocate for DC Water consumers, one year after the formation of the agency’s Water Services Division (WSD). Our mantra is: “OPC is Your Utility Lawyer.” And 45 years since OPC was created as an independent agency of the DC government, our mission remains to Educate, Advocate and Protect consumers of electric, natural gas, and local telephone services. Now, OPC is Your Water Utility Lawyer.
For years, DC Water ratepayers expressed concern that they did not have a seat at the table when the DC Water Board set rates. As water bills skyrocketed, and consumers demanded to be heard, the DC Council passed the DC Water Consumer Protection Amendment Act of 2018. After it became effective on April 11, 2019, WSD became the voice of DC Water consumers.
The Division’s first task was to Educate the community. Following the example of the agency’s impactful “OPC in Your Neighborhood” initiative, WSD staff took to DC streets of all eight wards, attending dozens of Advisory Neighborhood Commission meetings, community fairs, block parties, and farmers markets, touching thousands of residents of all ages. Our goal was to make consumers aware that OPC is ready and able to address concerns about increasingly high water bills.
OPC also created various educational materials, including fact sheets on how to file a complaint and how to conserve water. The Office hit the radio airwaves, and launched an “OPC Can Help” campaign with posters in English and Spanish displayed on Metro trains and buses. We added a water page on opc-dc.gov and a feature in the Office’s monthly newsletter.
Under the legislation, OPC worked with the District Department of the Energy and Environment (DOEE) and DC Water to develop a Consumer Bill of Rights. It delineates the rights and responsibilities of DC Water and its customers. OPC created a simple guide to the document and both are posted on opc-dc.gov.
Under our mission to Advocate, OPC is empowered to represent ratepayers at proceedings that affect all water consumers. Unlike the other utilities, DC Water is not subject to oversight by the DC Public Service Commission. Instead, DC Water is self-regulating subject only to oversight by its own board of directors, which sets and approves its rates. Even with this construct, OPC has been successful in advocating for ratepayers.
In 2019, OPC played an active role in two key DC Water rulemakings. The first was the proceeding that proposed an adjustment to the controversial Clean Rivers Impervious Area Charge (CRIAC). Impervious areas are surfaces like driveways, parking lots, and other paved areas that hold water. Since 2009, DC Water has implemented CRIAC to recover the costs of the Clean Rivers Project, a $2.7 billion dollar federal program to reduce combined sewer overflow into District waterways. You are paying CRIAC through your bill.
In the CRIAC rate adjustment, OPC filed extensive comments and testified at a Water Board public hearing. OPC’s overarching theme was the lack of transparency and public participation in the process. As a result of OPC’s advocacy, DC Water has increased openness and opportunities for consumer participation.
A second rulemaking involved the Customer Assistance Program II (CAP2) for fiscal year 2020. OPC supported the extension of CAP2 and advocated for a sustainable funding source for the program. OPC’s advocacy paid off — DC Water has extended CAP2 and is proposing to make it permanent. Next, OPC will aggressively advocate for reasonable rates when DC Water proposes rates for the current and upcoming fiscal years.
Under our mission to Protect, OPC has represented individual customers to resolve complaints — with payment problems, disconnections, and billing disputes at the top of the list.
Since the inception of the Water Services Division, WSD has addressed more than 400 complaints, saving consumers tens of thousands of dollars. These savings have led to real relief for real people. For example, in separate investigations of leaky pipes, two property owners received a combined $12,000 in bill credits as a result of OPC’s vigilance.
Our victories for consumers are propelled by a dedicated staff utilizing effective customer service tools that facilitate timely response to calls for help
Moving forward, we will continue to Advocate, Educate and Protect, with the goal of sustaining health and life for the residents of the District of Columbia.
Happy Earth Day!
Who We Are
The Office of the People’s Counsel is an independent agency of the District of Columbia government. By law, OPC is the advocate for District consumers of water, natural gas, electric, and telephone services. The Office’s mandate is to advocate for the provision of safe and reliable utility service at rates that are just, reasonable and nondiscriminatory; to assist individual consumers in disputes with utility companies; and to provide technical assistance and consumer education to the community and stakeholders. OPC carries out its mission through the work of the following divisions.
The Climate and Sustainability Policy Division works to ensure that OPC is effectively incorporating District of Columbia sustainability and climate goals into all aspects of our education, outreach and advocacy. People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye launched this new Division to ensure climate action policy considerations are an integral part of OPC’s operations at a time when climate change threatens the future of our world as we know it.
The Litigation Services Division represents consumers in legal matters involving utility companies before the DC Public Service Commission, federal regulatory agencies and the DC Court of Appeals; and engages in diverse energy, telecommunications, technical and market monitoring functions.
The Consumer Services Division provides education and outreach to consumers on utility and energy issues; assists in the resolution of consumer complaints; and provides technical assistance to lay advocates seeking to participate in the regulatory process.
The Water Services Division serves as a voice for water consumers by investigating complaints related to DC Water services, rates, and billing; represents ratepayers at DC Water administrative hearings and rulemaking proceedings, as well as the DC Court of Appeals; and educates water consumers about their legal rights and responsibilities.
Phone: (202) 727-3071 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org | Website: opc-dc.gov Twitter & Instagram: @DCOPC | Facebook.com/DCPeoplesCounsel