Public Service Commissioners, L-R: Commissioner Fort, Chair Kane, Commissioner Phillips
Pepco representatives, L-R: Michelle Ware, Interconnection Process Manager; Virginia Beringer, GPC Strategic Outreach Manager; and James Demarest, Jr., Customer Relations and Program Director.
Pepco Slammed Over Solar Issues: Interconnection Delays, Inaccurate Billing, & Lack of Response
By Larry Janezich
On Tuesday, the Public Service Commission (PSC) held a hearing to investigate the bottlenecks in Pepco’s approval process for installation of solar energy in DC and problems customers are having in getting concerns addressed or even acknowledged.
Public witnesses, representatives of the solar industry, the Office of People’s Counsel and Director of the DC Department of the Environment Tommy Wells all told the same story of Pepco’s shortcomings.
The most frequent problems cited by the witnesses (editor’s note: myself included) who appeared to testify in person and in letters filed with the commission were the following:
Delay – up to five months – in final approval for turning on the system after installation;
Billing – Claims Pepco was not billing accurately and not giving credit for solar power produced;
Lack of Response – a nearly total lack of response by Pepco to phone calls or email to customer questions, concerns, and complaints.
Capitol Hill resident Erik Anderson testified to his frustration at Pepco’s refusal to return calls and told the commission he had to utilize the Office of the People’s Counsel to resolve issues with Pepco.
Grant Klein, Project Manager at the non-profit solar installation coordinator DC Sun told the commission, “With an unresponsive GPC (Pepco’s Green Power Connection team), our best option has been to advise that homeowners with issues file complaints with the PSC.”
Ben Brieterman, CEO of solar installer Solar Solution said, “Regarding the delay in the decision on the authorization to operate, we don’t see this issue with any other utility we deal with. We don’t see the unresponsiveness. Sometimes we get a response from Pepco – residents never do.”
With respect to the lengthy delays, Dana Sleeper, Executive Director of MDV Solar Energy Industries Association, cited a recent study produced by EQ Research, which showed a sudden increase in the length of time for application processing from 2013 to 2014, when Pepco DC and Pepco MD ranked last on a list of 34 utilities in 13 states.
DC Department of the Environment Director Tommy Wells told the Commission that while the interconnection process has improved since 2005, “more progress is needed, and quickly.”
Wells made the following recommendations regarding the three issues troubling customers and installers most:
- Set a deadline of no longer that 20 business days from the time a complete application for authorization to operate (ATO) is filed for issuing Pepco’s final written determination on the ATO application.
- Within 60 days, increase the workforce dedicated to the GPC team to a level that would be adequate to meet the anticipated doubling of the number of applications.
- Enact a policy to respond to customer inquiries on billing, complaints and questions within 24 hours.
Pepco representatives, testifying last, were seemingly caught flatfooted and appeared to be unaware (or indifferent) to the issues raised by the testimony prior to theirs. The bulk of Pepco’s presentation was a demonstration of their attempts to respond to the Commission’s order of December 20, 2012, regarding ways to improve Pepco GPC operations. Most of Pepco’s presentation concerned improvements to the GPC website, future plans for improving the online application process and explaining the 9 step solar energy installation application process.
James J. Demarest, Jr., Customer Relations and Program Director for Pepco, focusing on Pepco’s efforts to reduce delays and better deal with the applications, said education of the consumer and training of the staff were being undertaken to alleviate the bottleneck caused by incomplete applications which require multiple back and forth communications between GPC and the consumer.
Demarest told the Commission that to deal with the 127% increase in volume of applications, Pepco was hiring one additional staffer. Given the fact that the GPC is completely overwhelmed at present, it causes one to question Pepco’s commitment to resolving the delay and communication issues. Demarest went on to say that his staff had responded to 27 calls in the GPC “call tree” in June. He continued, saying Pepco would continue to develop a more efficient on line application process and would welcome creation of a working group with government and solar stakeholders to work out problems.
Asked by PSC Commissioner Fort about the many complaints about post solar operation billing, Demarest said Pepco had not come prepared to discuss the billing issue but called up his Manager of Billing Services from the audience who told the commission that “the billing service is operating as planned” and that Pepco “doesn’t have a lot of billing issues.” Pressed further, by Fort, the Pepco representative replied that when callers to GPC leave a voice mail and refer to the bill – “that starts the investigative process.” That come as a surprise to those (myself included) with billing issues.
The Commission will keep the record open for 30 days from Tuesday’s date to solicit additional comment. Pepco will assess the testimony issue and issue an order directing Pepco to take specific actions to address the concerns raised at Tuesday’s hearing.
Compared with other utilities, Pepco appears to be among the worst on making the solar transition and, in a relative sense, its lapses are hard to explain. It may be an issue of oversight from either the city’s executive branch or the Public Service Commission. Or it could be simple lack of market competition. The intransigence of monopoly power will only go stronger if the city approves the proposed merger/buy-out of Pepco by energy giant Exelon.
The link to this specific case on the Public Service Commission’s website including testimony and letters submitted in connection with this case, as well as previous commission orders on Pepco solar permit processing issues is here: http://bit.ly/1KlQcHg
For information on Pepco’s process for applying to install solar panels, Google: Pepco GPC.
The link to file a complaint with the Public Service Commission is here: http://bit.ly/1MJiHyH
The PSC is accepting public comment for an additional 30 days. Solar power customers who wish to register their problems with Pepco send an email to the Commission Secretary here:
firstname.lastname@example.org – The subject line should read, “Comment for FC 1050”