Pepco, a utility serving ratepayers in Washington D.C. and surrounding areas, was ordered by the D.C. Public Service Commission to repay its customers roughly $800,000 for violating state law on the administration of community solar programs.
Under a community solar program, customers opt-in to enroll in a portion of a solar facility’s on-site generation, receiving a credit on their monthly utility bills for the project’s contribution to the grid.
Pepco was found to be under-counting community solar generation, leading to lower-than-expected savings and higher electricity bills for their customers. The utility was also found to be unreasonably slow in its payment to facility owners for solar generation that exceeded customer account subscription capacity.
What’s more, about 5,000 of the 6,200 residents participating in the community solar program are below 80% of the area’s median income. These customers were promised to have their electricity bills cut in half for 15 years, and instead have been stuck with underpaid and late credits.
Pepco was found to undercount generation in the Solar For All community program by over 5 GWh between January 2020 and September 2021.
Liz Veazey of nonprofit consumer protection group Solar United Neighbors warned that community engagement and trust is a critical component in launching successful community solar programs, and the utility’s negligent billing practices may damage the trust solar providers are trying to earn with their customers.
“Thousands of people in these programs were not seeing the bill savings every month that they should have been seeing,” said Veazey. “If people don’t think that these programs work and they’re skeptical of them and they’re not actually seeing the credits on their bills, that’s a big problem.”
The Office of the People’s Counsel and the D.C. Attorney General, representing the aggrieved ratepayers, jointly filed a complaint with the commission in March.
Pepco argued that it had the right to install its own meters at community solar facilities and base crediting off those internal meters. The Commission found that the practice would violate state law. Pepco has been found in violation of solar generation undercounting in multiple cases in the past, according to the complaint.
The utility admitted that it had some problems with billing and will begin to remove some of its meters. Pepco spent about $800,000 on the installation of the meters, which in turn were passed on to their customers in the form of bill increases. Now, the utility will be required to pay that sum back to its customers, reimbursing its customer base for the illegal meters it installed at over 300 community solar installations.
“We gave Pepco the benefit of the doubt that its flawed reading of the law and our regulations was not a deliberate attempt to undermine them,” said the Commission.
However, the Commission ordered repayment so that Pepco does not dump “the consequences of the company’s error onto the backs of ratepayers.”
The Commission noted that it may revamp its community solar laws to make sure similar utility disruptions do not occur again. Washington D.C. has a goal of 100% clean electricity and 100,000 Solar For All community solar subscriptions by 2032.
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