Exelon-Pepco merger critics seek investigation of DC Mayor over settlement deal
- Opponents of Exelon Corp.'s plans to acquire Pepco Holdings on Wednesday called for an investigation of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) and her decision to strike a settlement deal with Exelon to support the merger after it was rejected by the city's utility regulators, the Washington Post reports.
- The merger critics questioned the timing of a $25 million contribution that Pepco made to the District government to help offset costs to build a new stadium for D.C. United, the city's Major League Soccer team. The critics claim the donation appears to be connected to the Mayor's support for a settlement deal on the merger Exelon submitted to city regulators.
- Merger opponents were also critical of Exelon and Pepco's move to neither confirm or deny whether the companies were asked to contribute to FreshPAC, a political action committee (PAC) backed by Muriel Bowser. The PAC was shut down on Tuesday after coming under fire.
- Pepco officials and a Bowser spokesman told the Washington Post that the decision to support the merger settlement was separate from Pepco's contribution to the D.C. United Stadium, with Pepco spokesperson Myra Oppel calling the critiques a "last-ditch effort" to derail the merger.
On Wednesday, a group of merger opponents held a press conference at the site of the proposed soccer stadium, laying out an extensive network of financial connections between Bowser's administration, developers and donors to FreshPAC that they say points to a conspiracy to push Exelon's merger proposal past the Public Service Commission (PSC), the Washington Post reports.
The sponsorship agreement between the city and Pepco would see the new stadium named "Pepco Park," or the street leading to the stadium named "Pepco Place." The money for the agreement was deposited in city accounts as the mayor's team began to negotiate with Exelon over a merger settlement, according to the Post.
Critics also questioned why Exelon has refused to confirm or deny whether it was asked to contribute to a pro-Bowser political committee called FreshPAC. Last Friday, D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine, who many expect to challenge Bowser in her re-election campaign, lamented the "return of pay-to-play politics" when asked about the contribution controversy on local radio.
Faced with those critiques and others, Bowser allies shuttered the political action committee on Tuesday night.
Officials representing the mayor and Pepco fired back at the merger opponents, saying the stadium deal had nothing to do with the merger settlement. Pepco spokesperson Myra Oppel noted that seven of the 13 members of the D.C. Council have come out in support of the merger settlement, a development first reported by Utility Dive earlier this month.
“It’s clear the small, vocal minority who continue to oppose the merger are becoming increasingly desperate in their last-ditch attempts to disrupt it,” Oppel told the Post. “They are deliberately ignoring the facts and will say just about anything to distract from the substance of the merger and to serve their special interests.”
In August, the D.C. PSC rejected Exelon's merger application at its final hurdle, claiming an "inherent conflict of interest" between Exelon's business model and D.C.'s clean energy goals. That set off a flurry of negotiations with the Bowser administration and a public relations campaign from Exelon to pursuade stakeholders that the merger was in the public interest.
Merger critics say the settlement does little to protect D.C. ratepayers from the risks of Exelon's struggling Midwestern nuclear fleet and won't protect city residents' ability to install distributed generation and other customer-sited energy resources. Power sector observers, however, told Utility Dive last month that the increased support for the settlement deal among merger intervenors means that regulators will likely approve it.
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