Pepco Wants to Raise Rates. There’s a Cheaper, Greener Alternative
As Washingtonians struggle with skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, an historic economic recession, and a worsening climate crisis, Pepco wants to raise electricity prices by almost $136 million over three years. Pepco’s heartless proposal reveals the danger of corporate control over our energy system — and shows why we need a community-run utility that prioritizes public good instead of corporate profits.
We Power DC Demands Permanent Ban on Utility Shutoffs
Washingtonians continue to suffer from the historic economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as tens of thousands of people have lost their jobs or had their hours drastically reduced. Because of this economic devastation, more than 90,000 DC residents are currently in debt to our highly profitable investor-owned utilities Pepco and Washington Gas.
The DC Council and Mayor were right to pass emergency relief that banned utility shutoffs at the outset of the pandemic, which forced Pepco and Washington Gas against their will to keep the lights and heat on for our friends and neighbors during this traumatic time. And while we were shocked to learn that Council Chair Mendelson proposed an early lifting of the moratorium in January 2021, we appreciate the withdrawal of that proposal in the face of significant community pushback.
Utility debt is a symptom of a fundamental lack of support provided to and respect for working class people. Even prior to COVID-19, more than 83,000 DC residents owed a combined $23,000,000 to Pepco and WGL. These customers lived in fear that Pepco and WGL would turn off their lights and stoves, force them to live without heat and hot water in the winter, or suffer through the stifling heat of summer with no relief. Meanwhile, Pepco reported a $220 million profit last quarter — a 5 percent increase over its 2019 Q3 profit, despite the economic suffering of its customers.
Unfortunately, abusive utility practices too often get a free pass from the DC Public Service Commission (PSC). The mission of the PSC is to serve the public interest, and to ensure that our utilities offer services at reasonable rates for DC customers. Given the number of customers currently indebted to our utilities, the PSC must be more proactive and forceful in correcting their definition of “reasonable.” Both utilities are also woefully behind on their climate commitments at a time of worsening climate chaos.
We therefore appreciate the recent withdrawal of a PSC nominee who failed to answer important questions about how the Commission should respond to the challenges facing working class Washingtonians and utility obstruction of climate action.
We Power DC believes that energy access is a human right, and no one should be forced to live with the fear and shame of utility shutoffs — especially when the only purpose of shutoffs is to enrich utility executives and shareholders. We also believe investor-owned utilities that stonewall progress against climate change must be held to account.
We therefore demand that the DC government must enact a permanent, enforced moratorium on utility shutoffs, similar to those in place in many other municipalities.
Further, we call on the DC Council and the PSC to take whatever steps necessary to cancel all utility debt without passing the cost of this on ratepayers and also eliminate late fees, interest, security deposits, and negative credit reporting. These practices disproportionately impact our Black, Latinx, and immigrant neighbors and, despite what Pepco and WGL say, they are not required to maintain a functional and affordable energy system.
Lastly, we also call on the DC Council to nominate and approve a new PSC Commissioner who will stand for neighbors over shareholders when it comes to rate cases and shutoffs, and who understands the actions needed to mitigate the climate crisis.
We Power DC Statement on Proposed Lifting of DC Utility Disconnection Moratorium
Washingtonians are suffering from a historic economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, as tens of thousands of working class people have lost their jobs or had their hours drastically reduced. Because of this economic devastation, more than 60,000 DC residents are currently in debt to highly profitable investor-owned utilities Pepco and Washington Gas. We applaud the DC Council and Mayor for passing emergency relief that banned utility shutoffs at the outset of the pandemic, which forced Pepco and Washington Gas against their will to keep the lights and heat on for our friends and neighbors during this traumatic time.
Given the continued severity of the pandemic, the current surge in cases in the DC area, and the complete failure of the federal government to provide meaningful economic relief for working class Washingtonians, it is unconscionable that Council Chair Mendelson has requested to lift this moratorium while simultaneously extending the official public health emergency declaration.
Even prior to COVID-19, a quarter of DC residents qualified for energy assistance, but only about 40 percent of those eligible got help. The recession has only exacerbated energy poverty: One in six of Pepco’s customers in the District have fallen into debt with Pepco during the pandemic itself, while Pepco Holdings made $220 million worth of profits in the third quarter alone, up from $209 million last year.
Utility shutoffs are a barbaric and unjustifiable practice that regularly puts people’s lives at risk. Energy access is a human right, and even outside of the COVID-19 pandemic, nobody should be forced to live without heat and electricity.
We Power DC believes that the DC government must enact a permanent, enforced moratorium on utility shutoffs, similar to those in place in many other municipalities. At minimum we demand that the emergency moratorium stay in place until the end of the pandemic and related economic crisis. Now more than ever, families across the District must be able to stay safe, work, and learn from home.
DC’s Next PSC Commissioner Must Hold Pepco Accountable on Climate Goals
On December 3, We Power DC members testified at the DC Council hearing on Lorna John, who is Mayor Muriel Bowser’s pick to fill the vacancy on the Public Service Commission. We Power DC demanded that the PSC vigorously enforce DC’s climate goals and called for immediate energy relief for Washingtonians suffering from the pandemic.
DC Code, Title 34, Section 808 states that “In supervising … utility companies, the Commission shall consider public safety, the economy of the District, the conservation of natural resources, and the preservation of environmental quality, including effects on global climate change and the District’s public climate commitments.”
ANC-elect Keya Chaterjee of Arm-in-Arm DC, Wren Patton of Sunrise DC, and Mark Rodeffer of Sierra Club DC were among the speakers who stressed the PSC’s important role in pressuring Pepco to meet DC’s climate goals.
Tyler Fitch of We Power DC called on the PSC to embrace this mandate and hold Pepco accountable for dragging its feet on the clean energy transition.
“Pepco simply hasn’t made progress on the climate crisis,” Fitch said. “We currently get only 6 percent of our electricity from renewable sources, and Pepco’s obstruction has caused us to fall far, far, short of providing solar to 100,000 low-income residents as a part of Solar for All — a part of legislation that the DC Council wrote and approved.”
We Power DC’s Jeff Stottlemeyer demanded forgiveness for all utility debt and a ban on shutoffs. “I felt compelled to testify today in solidarity with the more than 60,000 DC residents who are currently burdened by debt to our highly profitable investor-owned utility, Pepco,” he said. “We need Public Service Commissioners who are willing to stand up for people over corporate profits, and who are willing to take a clear and public stand against disconnecting any DC resident’s utilities this coming winter.”
Stottlemeyer also denounced Pepco’s mistreatment of workers and called for democratic, public control of the energy system.
Ms. John was not present to respond to community members’ concerns.
Three No Pepco Pledge Signers Elected to DC Council
Three signers of the No Pepco Pledge—Janeese-Lewis George (Ward 4), Brooke Pinto (Ward 2), and Christina Henderson (At-Large)—were elected to the DC Council in November 2020. The No Pepco Pledge calls on candidates to reject campaign donations from Pepco and all fossil fuel interests, publicly disclose any dealings they have with Pepco, and explore alternatives to the corporate-owned utility model. We Power DC congratulates the signers on their victories and looks forward to working with them.
Utilities Commissioner Says Pepco’s Price Hike Plan is Weak on Climate
Following a massive public outrcy against Pepco’s plan to raise electricity prices amid an historic health, economic, and climate crisis, PSC Commissioner Richard Beverly criticized the proposal’s climate weaknesses and noted the outpouring of community opposition.
“A question we must consider is whether the proponent of an alternative form of regulation has demonstrated whether and how its proposal aligns with and advances the District of Columbia’s climate and energy goals,” wrote Commissioner Beverly. He accurately concluded: “Quite frankly, Pepco’s [proposal] is underwhelming in this regard.”
Commissioner Beverly went on to warn that Pepco’s price hike could “crush” Washingtonians.
DC Residents Overwhelmingly Reject Pepco’s Price Hike at Community Hearing
On September 29, the DC Public Service Commission held a community hearing about Pepco’s destructive and unnecessary plan to raise prices in the middle of the pandemic, revealing widespread community opposition to the proposal.
Pastors, climate advocates, union members, unemployed people, senior citizens, ANCs, and community leaders turned out in force to demand an energy system that prioritizes the public good instead of corporate profits. More than 100 people signed up to testify, with more than 70 percent speaking in opposition to Pepco’s price hike.
“A rate hike for profit during a pandemic? This is wrong!” said Denise Dunovant, a grandmother in Ward 7. She noted that her monthly electricity billed has already doubled during COVID-19 due to working from home and taking care of her new grandchild.
The Washington Interfaith Network, We Power DC, Sunrise DC, 350DC, the DC Federation of Civic Associations, Metro DC DSA, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the Sierra Club, and Chesapeake Climate Action Network were among the community groups who sent representatives to testify against the price hike.
It is a well-documented fact that Pepco, like other for-profit utilities, exploits its financial muscle to create the false veneer of popular support. Many of those who spoke in favor of the proposal have open financial and professional ties to Pepco. Representatives of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and United Way backed Pepco’s price hike—but these organizations receive donations from Pepco and have Pepco’s CEO on their boards of directors. SRB Communications, JPM Group, and Ideal Electric list Pepco or Exelon as clients on their websites.
Washington City Paper Quotes We Power DC
District Line Daily: The Price is High
by Amanda Michelle Gomez
Pepco is looking to increase its electricity rates. Under an intricate plan from Pepco, D.C. residents could see their bill raise by at least $96 per year on average, according to the Office of the People’s Counsel. (The office is an independent government agency that represents the interest of the city’s utility customers.)
Pepco first filed its multi-million dollar proposal in May 2019, when the company asked the DC Public Service Commission to change the way it sets rates by allowing the company to automatically increase rates each year over a three-year period.
A lot has changed since Pepco requested a $162 million rate increase. For starters, the company reduced its proposal to $135.9 million. But more importantly, the coronavirus pandemic has led to massive job losses and job insecurity.
“That is completely unacceptable,” says Johanna Bozuwa, with We Power DC and The Democracy Collaborative, of Pepco’s plan to raise rates during the pandemic. “They are also nowhere near to meeting their climate goals,” she adds.
Exposing Pepco’s Cozy Relationship with the DC Police Foundation
Pepco’s donations to the DC Police Foundation provide an example of how Pepco uses charitable giving to exert corrupt influence over DC politics. More generally, the warm ties between police departments and corporate-owned utilities show that energy democracy and racial justice are inextricably linked.
We Power DC Town Hall Denounces Pepco’s Price Hike
As an historic health, economic, and climate crisis ravages DC, Pepco is moving to jack up electricity prices by nearly $136 million. We Power DC held a virtual town hall to discuss the problems with Pepco’s proposal and highlight the need for a new, publicly-owned, democratically-run energy system. Among the speakers were Johanna Bozuwa of We Power DC, Keya Chatterjee of Arm-in-Arm DC, Anjali Patel of the Office of the People’s Counsel, Wren Patton of Sunrise DC, Marli Kasdan of 350DC, and Laura Petersen of We Power DC.