Public Service Commission town hall on grid reform disappoints

By Ben Delman on March 3, 2017

The D.C. Public Service Commission (PSC) has undertaken a process, FC 1130, that aims to reform rules around the way electricity in the District is generated and distributed. We hope this proceeding will make our electric grid more sustainable, reliable, and integrate more solar and other Distributed Energy Resources, (DERs). Earlier this year, the PSC released a report, Modernizing the Energy Delivery System for Increased Sustainability (MEDSIS). The report describes rules that could be changed as part of FC 1130.

The Commission held a public forum earlier this week designed to engage public input about this process. As the MEDSIS report was not written for a lay audience, the forum was an opportunity for the Commission to help the public understand how it will work to achieve the goals set out by FC 1130.

To our disappointment, Commissioners neglected to explain this report to attendees. Instead, the PSC used the forum to talk about how it should spend the funding it gave itself as part of its wrongheaded approval of Exelon’s takeover of Pepco.

This discussion of pilot project funding is premature at best and irresponsible at worst.

DC SUN supports the overarching goals of FC 1130. We believe they provide an opportunity to help all District residents benefit from solar. Distributed solar generation, and equitable access to it and other DERs, are key components of a more sustainable grid. FC 1130 could be critical for rates, reliability and renewable energy.

To our dismay, it seems the PSC is more concerned about moving forward with funding pilot projects. It is doing so without a clear consensus on guiding principles, goals for a modern utility system, and a process to modernize the grid. Instead of diving into specific pilot demonstration projects, the commission needs to specifically articulate its vision of a modern energy delivery system.

We need to start the long and critical process of getting everyone in D.C. on board for a shared vision of the grid of the future. This vision should be informed by input from the public and incorporate D.C.’s energy plans as well as broader concerns about equity, and reliability. The PSC needs to help D.C. ratepayers put meat on the bones of their energy goals. It is up to the Commission to work with us to create a pathway that leads to modernizing the grid.

D.C. ratepayers have to rely on the Commission to move this forward because other stakeholders in this process, particularly the utilities have a very different idea about how our electric grid should work and who it should benefit. It is the Commission’s job to highlight these different viewpoints and create a process that leads toward a consensus. So far, it appears the Commission would rather sweep the whole thing under the rug, and create anthropomorphic lightbulb mascots. In the end, the FC 1130 proceeding and should define what modernizing the grid means and create a pathway to getting there.

DC SUN’s vision for a positive outcome to the process started by FC 1130 is one that enables District residents to take control of where our electricity comes from. This entails greater use of diverse energy sources by all District residents and the deployment of demand management, microgrids, and energy efficiency. If done correctly, this will save all utility customers money, make our electric grid more reliable and resilient and put us on the path toward sustainability.

Throughout the now 20-month-long process, the Commission has failed to establish a set of principles and goals such as the ones listed above. We fear it is woefully unprepared to address our ever changing and expanding utility system.

We recommend that the DC SUN community comment on these proceedings as well. You can submit a public comment by March 27 to the Public Service Commission: