What is We Power DC?
We Power DC is a coalition of community members fighting for public power in the District. We want to replace Pepco, our monopoly energy utility, with a public utility that is democratically owned and operated by the people of DC for the benefit of our communities. This process is called “municipalization” or “democratization”—municipalization means to bring something under the city’s control, and democratization means to govern it with a democratically elected group of people.
The seeds of what is now We Power DC were sowed back in 2019 when a group of organizers created the No Pepco Pledge. The No Pepco Pledge challenged DC Council candidates to reject money from Pepco and fossil fuel interests, disclose meeting minutes with Pepco and Washington gas lobbyists, and explore a democratic option for DC’s energy infrastructure. Three of our No Pepco Pledge signers won their races for DC Council (now-Councilmembers Janeese Lewis George, Christina Henderson, and Brooke Pinto), showing that DC residents want leaders who will put people over profit.
In the face of the COVID-19 emergency, we organized to protect our neighbors from inhumane rate hikes and electricity shutoffs. Now, with 2022 DC Council elections just around the corner, our movement is pressuring the DC Council to take steps to municipalize Pepco, which has proven incapable of acting to protect the health, safety and well-being of DC residents.
What is “public power”?
Energy is a human right, not a commodity, and should be controlled by the people who use it–the public.
In other words, the “public” in “public power” refers to who owns the infrastructure that brings people the energy they need to go about their day: private investors or residents? Right now, Pepco—DC’s monopoly energy utility—is owned by Exelon, which is a massive corporation in Illinois that has been on a utility-buying spree across the country. Who owns Exelon? A small group of private, for-profit investors. A utility owned by private investors is ultimately responsible to those investors and their wallets – with no incentive to consider the wellbeing of the customers themselves, the very people who depend on the energy the utility provides.
Why is public power important?
A public utility owned by the people will reflect what the people want.
Our climate crisis is only getting worse, and time is running out. Meanwhile, inequality and economic insecurity are soaring. In the midst of these connected crises, it is crucial that our communities have a voice in our energy system. If people want their energy to be sourced from renewable sources, their utility should work to make that happen. If people struggle to pay their energy bill each month, they should be helped, not buried with debt and subjected to energy shut-offs.
The good news is that public power is already a reality: there are publicly-owned utilities across the country. Research has shown that these utilities owned by residents achieve their environmental goals more quickly and successfully, shut off their residents’ energy less often, and charge lower rates than for-profit utilities.
Can a city really run its own energy system?
Yes! Many utilities around the country are already democratic and owned by the public. One in seven people in the US are served by public power, including the residents of Los Angeles, Omaha, Austin, Chattanooga, and the entire state of Nebraska, to name just a few. 49 out of 50 states have municipally owned utilities. This shows that public power is possible.
Would city control really be better? Why should I trust D.C. to run the energy system better than Pepco?
Our campaign is premised on the idea of democratic control of a municipal utility. We want an elected board to oversee the utility. This board will be accountable to residents through our votes, not private shareholder interests. As a public agency, a municipal utility would be subject to sunshine laws, which grant the public greater transparency around how decisions are made, how utility executives are compensated, and how investments are prioritized. This model allows residents to have real input into debates about how to meet meaningful clean energy targets, ensure electricity is affordable to all, and make just and innovative infrastructure investments.
How would we switch?
The DC Council has the tools to make public power a reality for the people of D.C. We Power DC is partnering with Councilmembers from all 8 Wards and at-large to draft public power legislation to replace Pepco with a cheaper, cleaner utility. We are organizing our neighborhoods to elect Council Members who will take action, if our current council isn’t up to the task. Three Councilmembers and candidates in this year’s election have already signed onto our “Public Power Pledge,” and we are currently engaging in council outreach to build an even larger base of support. .