Washington Gas Light Co. shut off the gas in 7.974 District of Columbia residences and businesses for bill nonpayment during last winter's seven-month heating season, the company disclosed yesterday.
A company spokesman also said WGL has an internal policy - although this is not required by law - of not shutting off gas when the outside temperature falls below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
These disclosures came yesterday as witnesses angrily testified against winter utility shutoffs during an allday hearing before the D.C. Public Service Commission on a proposed new consumer bill of rights.
"You are the undisputed dicators over the lives of people," shouted one witness, Alfred Henley, as he gestured at more than a dozen lawyers and executives for the gas, electric and telephone companies who sat in the crowded hearing room. "There is no other gas company. There is no other electric company."
Henley, representing an organization called the Metro Coalition, joined other public witnesses yesterday in demanding that the new bill of rights should prohibit shutoffs during the winter months of December through March regardless of whether customers pay their bills.
"For the aged living on a fixed income it is always a desperate choice between heating and eating," said henley. ". . . Let's make sure it is profits rather than people who are frozen (next winner)."
Henley's testimony that WGL has shut off 6,000 gas customers one recent year led the company spokesman to issue the correct figures after a reporter checked with him.
"If a customer has a problem, if they'll come to us in most cases arrangements can be made (to keep the gas from being shut off)," said the spokesman.
He added that there were 1,922 shut-offs in suburban Maryland and 1,479 in suburban Virginia for bill nonpayment during last winter's heating season, which runs from October through April.
henley also ridiculed what he said is a Potocnac Electric Power Co. claim of "humane consideration" in not shutting off electric customers for bill nonpayment when the wind-chill factor is below 27 degrees Fahrenheit.
A Pepco spokesman confirmed this yesterday and said the company shut off service for 8,511 District of Columbia and 6,830 Maryland customers during recent 12-month periods for bill nonpayment.
"The majority are put back on in 12 to 24 hours," the spokesman said.
In other testimony yesterday, witnesses argued that residents in master-metered apartment buildings whose utility bills are paid by their landlords fail to pay utility bills.
Barbara Pugh of a consumer organization called United People told the three-member commission that language in the proposed bill should make it clear that after a landlord defaults, and the tenants assume utility payments as they must under current law, the utilities should then move against the landlord for payment of past bills rather than shutting off service.
Pugh joined other witnesses in attacking company practice of sending customers estimated bills, saying new customers who move into a house often receive an estimated utility bill based on the consumption of the previous occupant.
Brian Lederer, the D.C. people's counsel who officially represents consumers in utility cases, issued a consultant's report yesterday attacking an assertion by the utilities last week that implementation of the new bill would cost $8 million that would have to be passed on to customers in the form of higher rates.
Lederer told a reporter later that the figure is "very misleading. It's outrageous."
He said most of the estimated $8 million is for putting meters outside buildings so they can be easily reported help the companies eliminate estimated billing. But Lederer said that, "No party in this case is recommending mandatory installation of outside meters."
Another portion of the $8 million estimate derives from "the completely, unfounded assumption (by the companies) that bad debts will increase" with the elimination of security deposits. Lederer said. The commission has said it is considering eliminating the deposit requirements in the new bill.
Lederer said that the remaining $2.1 million, which would go for a administrative costs, "is nothing" and would not raise utility rates signigicantly if at all.
"The attitude of the companies (in implementing the bill) is critical," Lederer said. "They can run the costs up."
The hearings continue today in room 314 of PSC headquarters at 1625 I St. NW. More public testimony and testimony by utility representatives is expected today.