He said the increase, which comes after a $24 million increase last year, would pay for continued efforts to boost reliability and customer service. Similar upgrades are responsible for a 17 percent reduction in outages in the past three years, he said.
“The real take-away here is our commitment to better meet expectations of our customers with regards to reliability, and we have exceeded those standards,” Graham said. “But it remains vitally important we continue to make investments in the system so our system will continue to improve.”
But the proposed increase unnerved some District leaders, who predicted a backlash from residents who still remember widespread outages in the summer during 100-degree heat.
Sandra Mattavous-Frye, the People’s Counsel who advocates for D.C. consumers, vowed she would fight the proposed hike “aggressively, zealously and with all the ardor” that she “can possibly mount.”
“The company seems to be relentless, and they just keep coming back and back,” said Mattavous-Frye, who noted that Pepco has won $72 million in rate hikes since 2006. “At some point, the commission will have to say no.”
The proposed increase would not affect Pepco customers in Maryland. In November, Pepco filed a separate $60 million rate hike request for Maryland, despite a $126 million profit in 2012.
If the request is approved by the Maryland Public Service Commission, the average residential monthly bill would go up by $7.13, or about 5 percent. The Maryland PSC rejected the bulk of a prior rate hike request in the summer, arguing that the utility offered inconsistent service.
The District’s PSC also has been trimming back Pepco’s requested increases, although Mattavous-Frye said it’s been more than 20 years since it rejected one outright.
Pepco submitted a request for a $42 million rate hike in 2011, but the commission agreed to only $24 million, adding about $2.60 to the average residential bill.
In recent years, Pepco has faced more scrutiny as it struggled with several widespread power outages, including after a February 2010 blizzard and the June derecho. A Washington Post investigation in 2010 found that Pepco ranked near the bottom nationally among electric companies in its ability to keep the power on and restore it after an outage.
At the time, Pepco officials estimated that the reliability upgrades would cost the average ratepayer about an extra $1 a month. But Pepco Vice President Bill Gausman said those estimates have increased as the utility boosted its maintenance, including trimming 846 miles of trees in the past 27 months.