WASHINGTON — Editor's note: A previous version of this story identified Karl Racine as the Maryland Attorney General. He is the D.C. Attorney General. The correction has been made.
The D.C. Attorney General has accused Pepco of "systemically mishandling" community solar panel projects and potentially overcharging thousands of D.C. households in an effort to undermine the District's efforts to meet previously set clean energy goals.
Attorney General Karl A. Racine announced Thursday that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and the Office of the People’s Counsel (OPC) have filed a complaint against the utility.
Racine says D.C. officials have continuously tried to work with Pepco to address problems with the community solar programs for almost two years. Part of the more than 6,800 households, who are supposed to get solar energy discounts, include thousands of low-income residents
"Unfortunately, these programs are still not working as intended, and residents continue to get overcharged on their electric bills,” Racine said. “Enough is enough. We have heard from numerous D.C. residents who are rightly fed up with Pepco’s seeming inability, intentional or otherwise, to allow for consumer choice and transition to clean energy, as required by law."
The solar programs are part of an effort to combat the impacts of climate change in D.C. While solar panels can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as help residents save money on their energy bills, the installation is costly and some residents don't have the ability to install the panels themselves or may rent homes or apartments.
In 2013, the DC Council passed environmental justice legislation to try to encourage more local solar energy generation and help all residents benefit from solar energy. The legislation led to the creation of community solar projects (also known as community renewable energy facilities, or CREFs).
CREFs help create off-site solar panels that are installed by developers, businesses or D.C. government agencies. People living in other parts of the community could "subscribe" to the installation. Subscribers would then receive a credit on their electric bills for the solar energy generated by their "share" of the project every month.
According to OAG, the free Solar For All program is open to all DC households earning 80% or less of Area Median Income. Nearly 5,000 homes are enrolled in the program, which accounts for 72% of DC's community solar project subscribers.
The Department of Energy and Environment (DOEE) says Solar For All program participants should save 50% on their electricity bills over 15 years. However, Racine claims that DOEE and OPC have received numerous complaints from people saying they are not receiving timely or accurate bill credits from Pepco.
“Because the utility has not fixed the issues on its own, OPC and OAG are asking the [District of Columbia Public Service Commission] to step-in and use its regulatory powers to investigate and bring the utility into compliance with the law and make consumers whole for benefits that they have lost,” said People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye.
Racine says the OAG is taking action now to uncover the true extent of Pepco's mishandling of the solar programs.
According to the complaint, the OAG and OPC claim Pepco has mishandled the solar panel program for years and violated District laws in several ways, including:
- Failing to provide promised discounts on energy bills
- Harming low-income residents by not properly providing credits
- Failing to pay DOEE and other owners of community solar generation facilities
- Undercounting solar energy that is being generated by unlawfully installing its own electrical meters
- Undermining the District's ability to reach its climate goals
WUSA9 reached out to Pepco about the complaint and received the following statement:
"We will be reviewing the complaint filed today by the DC Attorney General and Office of People’s Counsel and it would be premature for the company to comment about the complaint before having a chance to review it fully. We are committed to helping the District achieve its leading climate goals and continue to support our customers with interconnecting their local solar into the local energy grid and helping to connect our customers with community solar projects. In fact, we recently partnered with NHT Ingenuity Power on a community solar facility at our Benning Service Center, and with support from the District Department of Energy and Environment and DC Sustainable Energy Utility, through the Solar for All program, 330 income-qualified households will see up to $500 in annual savings on their Pepco electricity bill over a 15-year period by signing onto this community solar facility."
The proposed solar farm and storage facility would be the largest airport-based project in the U.S., Dominion Energy says.