Officials in the District of Columbia filed a complaint against Pepco for allegedly “systemically mishandling” community solar projects, potentially overcharging customers, and “undermining the District’s efforts to meet its clean energy goals.”
The 330-page complaint was filed with the District’s Public Service Commission by the office of the Attorney General and the People’s Counsel, both at the city level.
The complaint alleged that District officials have worked with Pepco to address problems with community solar programs and see to it that households receive promised solar energy discounts. The programs are not working as intended, and residents continue to be overcharged on their electric bills, the Attorney General’s office alleged.
The People’s Counsel and Attorney General asked regulators to use its regulatory powers to investigate and, if necessary, bring the utility into compliance.
The petition includes allegations that Pepco failed to properly implement community solar projects. It said that Pepco also failed to provide expected discounts on residents’ bills, failed to compensate owners and operators of the community solar projects (including the District government), and undercounted solar energy being generated, among other alleged violations.
The petition seeks a third-party audit into Pepco’s handling of community solar projects. It also seeks to compel Pepco to provide relief for residents who were allegedly deprived of promised credits on their bills, compensate community solar project owners, and pay penalties for legal violations.
In a statement provided to Renewable Energy World, Pepco said it was reviewing the complaint and that it was premature for the company to comment.
The statement said the utility recently partnered with NHT Ingenuity Power on a community solar facility at its Benning Service Center, and that some 330 income-qualified households would see up to $500 in annual savings on their Pepco electricity bill over a 15-year period by signing onto this community solar facility.
Pepco said it also recently submitted a series of filings to the Public Service Commission of the District of Columbia, outlining Pepco’s Climate Solutions Plan. It said part of its approach includes “facilitating more local, clean” distributed energy resources (DER), such as solar, and accelerating renewable generation to help enable the clean energy future for all District residents “in an equitable and efficient manner.”
In 2013, the District of Columbia’s City Council passed environmental justice legislation to encourage more local solar energy generation. The law created a model for community solar projects (also known as community renewable energy facilities, or CREFs). Under this model, off-site solar panels could be installed by developers, businesses, or District government agencies. People living elsewhere in the community then could subscribe to the installation and receive a credit on their monthly electric bill for the solar energy generated by their share of the project.
District residents were allowed to subscribe to a community solar project for free through an income-based Solar For All program run by the District Department of Energy and Environment, or they could buy subscriptions from private providers. Almost 5,000 households are enrolled in Solar For All, which accounts for almost three-quarters of DC’s community solar project subscribers. Solar For All program participants could save around 50% on their electricity bills over 15 years. However, complaints suggest that participants are not receiving timely or accurate bill credits from Pepco.
In their petition to the city’s Public Service Commission, the Attorney General’s office and Office of Public Counsel allege that Pepco violated District laws governing the operation of community solar programs by:
Failing to provide promised discounts on energy bills. Residents allegedly have complained about receiving lower than expected credits, or zero credits on their bills. Program participants have also reported receiving confusing and inaccurate bills, multiple bills for the same time period, or incorrect bills showing they are carrying balances, and that it is difficult to get Pepco to correct billing errors.
Harming low-income DC residents: Pepco’s alleged failure to properly provide credits on energy bills harms low-income DC households who have difficulty affording their energy bills without assistance.
Failing to pay DOEE and other owners of community solar generation facilities: Pepco has allegedly failed to pay the owners of these projects what they are owed.
Undercounting solar energy that is being generated: Pepco allegedly is undercounting solar energy generation, including by installing its own electrical meters. “The unlawful and unnecessary installation of extra meters is creating delays and causing incorrect meter readings and errors,” the complaint said.
Undermining the District’s ability to reach its climate goals: OAG and OPC allege that Pepco’s handling of community solar programs “has weakened public confidence in the programs, caused financial harm to the organizations that own and operate them, and are undermining the District’s ability to meet its ambitious carbon reduction goals.”