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Last Friday, the D.C. Public Service Commission denied, 2-1, a proposed merger between utilities companies Pepco and Exelon that had been partly negotiated by Mayor Muriel Bowser. Then, the PSC approved, also 2-1, a revised merger agreement with a 14-day review period. Already, though, D.C. leaders including Bowser herself have come out against it.
If you’re scratching your head right now, you’re not alone. Wasn’t Bowser the one who’d been pushing for a negotiated deal while councilmembers like Mary Cheh and Elissa Silverman as well as environmentalists had said no thanks?
Whether the merger goes through remains to be seen. Here’s what we know with confidence as of this morning.
Why does Bowser now oppose the deal?
“The PSC’s counterproposal guts much-needed protections against rate increases for D.C. residents and assistance for low-income D.C. ratepayers,” the mayor said in a statement released this week. “That is not a deal that I can support.”
What benefits had she negotiated for anyway?
Bowser’s administration had advocated for and secured deferred rate increases and investments in green technology as part of the $6.8 billion deal, which was more than had been offered at first. One example: $10 million to green facilities.
Who else opposes the new settlement agreement?
The Office of the People’s Council for D.C. on Tuesday said the new deal “removes a benefit essential to the justness and reasonableness of the merger for District residential customers,” which could lead to higher rates for residents and adversely affect low-income ones. “The Commission’s order eviscerates the benefits and protections essential to render the proposed merger in the public interest,” People’s Counsel Sandra Mattavous-Frye said in a statement. “The inability to afford to pay [electricity] bills is a reality for many of our residents and cannot be trivialized and dismissed.”
D.C. Water has also come out against the revised merger: “DC Water has concluded the alternative terms in the revised agreement provide substantially less benefit to the Authority’s ratepayers than the negotiated settlement reached last October.”
Councilmembers Silverman (At-Large), David Grosso (At-Large), Cheh (Ward 3), and Charles Allen (Ward 6) have expressly opposed the merger since last year, along with many advisory neighborhood commissioners and groups, too.
On Tuesday, Silverman effectively characterized the deal as dead, pointing to Pepco as D.C.’s power-provider for the foreseeable future: “While the merger may have been good for Pepco’s shareholders, it would have exposed District ratepayers to large risks in the long run. I look forward to working with the Mayor, my Council colleagues, the Public Service Commission, and the People’s Counsel to continue improving Pepco’s reliability and performance for residents.”
How do the companies themselves feel?
Spokespeople for Pepco and Exelon appear a bit more sanguine, saying their companies were reviewing the new terms.
“The discussions are ongoing, and we will provide an update at the appropriate time,” they said, in identical statements.
When will we know what happens to the proposed merger?
That update could come today or sometime next week.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery