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People's Counsel Using Investigatory Authority To Conduct "Study" On Retail Energy Market, Seeks To Compel Utility To Provide Retail Supplier Billing Rate Information

OPC Seeking Information On Retail Supplier Rates Billed To Low-Income Customers; Number Of Such Customers Served

March 20, 2020

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Copyright 2010-20
Reporting by Paul Ring •

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The District of Columbia Office of the People's Counsel has invoked section 34-804(d)(4) of the D.C. Code for purposes of conducting, "a study examining the energy bill impact, quality of services, and viability of Third-Party Suppliers ('TPSs') in the District."

"OPC intends to use the study as the basis for recommendations on how to better monitor and improve the services TPSs provide to the District's energy consumers. OPC believes this study could be a valuable resource that all interested stakeholders, including the Commission, can use to advance the District's policies with respect to DC's retail choice program," OPC said in a regulatory filing with the D.C. PSC

Section 34-804(d)(4) of the D.C. Code vests OPC with regulatory authority to "investigate independently, or within the context of formal proceedings before the Commission, the services given by, the rates charged by, and the valuation of the properties of the public utilities under the jurisdiction of the Commission." Section 34-1118(c) of the D. C. Code provides that, "the Office shall have the right to obtain from the public utility investigated all information and documents reasonably relevant and material," to an investigation under section 34-804(d)(4) of the D.C. Code.

Under such authority, OPC sought from Washington Gas Light historical pricing information regarding the TPSs [retail suppliers] for which it renders consolidated bills to residential customers.

Among other things, OPC is seeking from WGL, broken out by whether the customer is a Residential Aid Discount ("RAD") customer or a non-RAD residential customer, the following information:

a. the name of the third-party supplier;

b. the total therms billed for each supply rate (i .e., each unique rate charged by the third-party supplier);

c. the supply rate (per therm) charged;

d. the total dollar amount billed (before application of any applicable discounts) for each supply rate; and

e. the total number of accounts billed for each supplier for each supply rate.

OPC is also seeking from WGL the following information on the number of RAD customers supplied by each TPS (as well as the same information for non-RAD customers)

a. the name of the supplier and total number of RAD program residential accounts billed for each third-party supplier operating in that area at each rate offered by that supplier, the total therms billed for each rate; and

b. the number of RAD program residential accounts that subscribe to natural gas supply from WGL.

OPC alleged that, "WGL initially agreed to comply with OPC's informal data request."

However, OPC alleged that WGL provided a subsequent response, in which WGL stated, as alleged by OPC, that WGL was, "tak[ing] another look at the data" that OPC had requested, as WGL claimed to have "concerns with providing supplier billing information without it being treated as confidential."

As alleged by OPC, WGL later informed OPC that WGL is, "not going to release the requested information, unless the PSC directs [it] to do so."

In objections to OPC's data request, WGL said that the requests fall outside the scope of OPC's statutory authority. WGL said that certain of the requests do not pertain to the services offered by Washington Gas Light to its customers or the company's rates or valuation

"Furthermore, the requested information may be deemed confidential by the suppliers that provided it. In an effort to ensure the integrity of suppliers in participating in the Choice Program; Washington Gas objects to this request," WGL said in its objections

OPC said that it attempted to mollify WGL's concerns by explaining that OPC's study would mask the identity of the TPSs so that the data WGL provided, which, again, the Office intends to include in its study in an anonymized form, could not be linked to a specific natural gas supplier

OPC filed a formal data request of WGL with the PSC and a motion to compel

OPC argued the data request is authorized under the code, arguing that consolidated billing for TPSs is a utility service

"Developing a monthly customer bill-whether consolidated or unconsolidated-involves meter reading, bill processing, bill mailing, and then payment receipt. Therefore, it is a 'service' provided by WGL. As such, OPC has the statutory authority to inquire about anything related to customer billing pertaining to its TPS study -- which, in this case, is the requested TPS historical billing data," OPC said

OPC said that WGL's concerns about the alleged confidential nature of the information were speculative

"The Commission should not allow WGL to avoid its disclosure obligations and undercut OPC's independent investigatory authority by layering speculative claim upon speculative claim. At bottom, if none of the requested information is governed by a valid non-disclosure, confidentiality, proprietary, or similar agreement, the Company's confidentiality objections simply cannot stand -- particularly given that WGL would lack the requisite standing (in light of the fact that the requested data is not its own), and the TPSs would have waived any confidentiality protections once they provided this data to WGL without one of the foregoing agreements in place," OPC said






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