Ex­elon’s new deal isn’t good enough

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY JUDI JONES AND SHERICE MUHAM­MAD Judi Jones is a com­mis­sioner with Ad­vi­sory Neigh­bor­hood Com­mis­sion 4B. Sherice Muham­mad is a com­mis­sioner with Ad­vi­sory Neigh­bor­hood Com­mis­sion 7D.

This month, D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) an­nounced that she had reached an agree­ment clear­ing the way for Chicago-based en­ergy gi­ant Ex­elon to buy Pepco. This was ex­tremely dis­ap­point­ing to the thou­sands of D.C. res­i­dents, half the D.C. Coun­cil and more than half of the Dis­trict’s Ad­vi­sory Neigh­bor­hood Com­mis­sions (ANCs) who have worked tire­lessly to help the mayor un­der­stand that Ex­elon is wrong for the Dis­trict.

Ex­elon’s bid to buy Pepco was unan­i­mously re­jected in Au­gust by the D.C. Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion as not in the best in­ter­ests of the ratepay­ers. Un­for­tu­nately, the set­tle­ment with the mayor may al­low the merger to go for­ward largely on Ex­elon’s terms.

As ANC chairs, we rep­re­sent vot­ers and small busi­nesses. We can no longer stand by as the mayor throws her lot in with Ex­elon. The mayor should not have struck a deal with Ex­elon; now that deal should be re­jected by the Dis­trict’s reg­u­la­tors.

While the mayor’s deal in­cludes a small in­crease in cus­tomer bill off­sets and a pledge to hire about 100 lo­cal work­ers, the specifics of the deal re­veal that rates may in­crease in 2019 and jobs may be lost start­ing as soon as 2018.

The funds Ex­elon has of­fered to the Dis­trict won’t be avail­able to small busi­nesses or com­mer­cial cus­tomers and will mostly off­set an im­me­di­ate rate in­crease of up to $25.6 mil­lion once Ex­elon takes over Pepco. That’s not ex­actly a boon to (es­pe­cially) low­in­come res­i­dents. The mayor’s deal also gives Ex­elon the right to raise rates again start­ing in April 2019 and charge Dis­trict ratepay­ers 5 per­cent in­ter­est on those rate hikes. Worst of all, the mayor’s deal pre­vents the Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion from over­see­ing those hikes.

The pledge for new jobs is also far from ap­plause-wor­thy. Noth­ing binds Ex­elon to hire th­ese work­ers — it merely has to make a “best ef­fort.” Weigh that against Ex­elon Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Chris Crane’s state­ments, re­ported by The Post in April 2014, that Ex­elon plans to lay off lo­cal Pepco work­ers to achieve “syn­er­gies.”

Ex­elon wants Pepco so it can sell more of its power, mostly gen­er­ated by Ex­elon’s nearly two dozen nu­clear re­ac­tors. This is why the com­mis­sion found that the longer-term eco­nomic prospects are bleak for ratepay­ers if Ex­elon gets its way.

The mayor’s deal is weak on the en­vi­ron­ment and sus­tain­abil­ity. It re­quires Ex­elon to build “up to” 10 megawatts of so­lar but pro­vides no penalty for fail­ure. It al­lows Ex­elon to count 5 megawatts of so­lar al­ready be­ing built at the Blue Plains sewage treat­ment plant against that 10-megawatt to­tal and does not re­quire Ex­elon to charge fair-mar­ket rates for any so­lar it sells to the Dis­trict. Given that Ex­elon lob­bies against strong re­new­able-en­ergy poli­cies in other ci­ties and states and in Congress, we are con­cerned about its com­mit­ment to meet­ing or even re­spect­ing the Dis­trict’s strong clean-en­ergy goals. This is why the com­mis­sion found that Ex­elon has an “in­her­ent con­flict of in­ter­est” that can­not be fixed by any set­tle­ment agree­ment.

Bowser re­cently signed a deal to bring more wind en­ergy into the Dis­trict. Does she know about Ex­elon’s real po­si­tion on clean en­ergy?

Most im­por­tant is that the peo­ple of the Dis­trict don’t want Ex­elon. Faith lead­ers un­der­stand that higher elec­tric bills will force more peo­ple to rely on the char­i­ties Ex­elon threat­ened to “cut off if a merger [does] not go through.” Small-busi­ness lead­ers worry that Ex­elon’s higher rates will make it harder for them to grow. And elected lead­ers rec­og­nize the threat of the loss of lo­cal con­trol.

No one be­lieves Pepco is per­fect. But no back­room deal can per­suade Ex­elon to change its stripes. If Ex­elon comes to the Dis­trict, it will stay for decades, do­ing to us what it has done to its other cus­tomers, plain and sim­ple.

The peo­ple who will have to pay the higher bills and watch the Dis­trict’s clean-en­ergy progress stall have said “No.” We wish the mayor had heard them and stood firm. Now it is up to the reg­u­la­tors to rec­og­nize this lat­est set­tle­ment for what it is: a bad deal for the Dis­trict.

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