- As utility regulators in Washington, D.C., and Maryland hear arguments on Exelon's plans to acquire Pepco Holdings, a new poll released by merger opponents has found that just 6% of likely voters in the nation's capital support the acquisition that would create America's biggest utility.
- 43.7% of the 731 residents surveyed by the political consultancy group Crossroads Campaigns said they opposed the merger and 50.3% said they were unsure, according to results released Monday from the advocacy group Power DC.
- Exelon calls the poll "fundamentally flawed," and questions the motivations and methods used by Crossroads in conducting the phone survey.
Chicago-based Exelon has made reliability improvements the main selling point for District residents, saying it can keep the lights on better than Pepco could. The incumbent utility has been the subject of many complaints in recent years over the resiliency of its grid and speed of repairs.
But that message, along with the promise of bill credits and lower rates, doesn't appear to be getting through to D.C. residents. Only 44 of 731 respondents surveyed by Crossroads Communications on Jan. 30 and Feb. 2 indicated they supported the merger. 319 said they opposed it, and 368 said they were unsure.
Crossroads was commissioned by Power DC, an anti-merger group, to complete the survey. Nearly 18,600 residents who voted in the 2014 city election primaries were contacted with pre-recorded phone messages, and the 731 respondents represent those who completed the entire survey.
Utility Dive asked Mike McLaughlin, a field consultant at Crossroads who helped create the survey, if the low support for Exelon's proposal was due to selection bias. In other words, did only the people who opposed the merger stay on the line to complete the entire survey, while those supportive, ignorant, or ambivalent simply hung up?
"I think the numbers don’t bear that out," McLaughlin told Utility Dive. "41% of the people hadn’t heard about the merger, but they still took the survey." Had selection bias been an issue, he said, that number would be smaller. The high number of "unsure" answers about the survey (50.3%) could also be read as an indication that not only merger opponents completed the survey, but there's no way to know for sure.
McLaughlin also said that opposition to the merger was highest in Wards 3, 6 and 8, the places where the most people knew about the survey. That finding is especially bad for Exelon, as the company has made a point of highlighting its support from minority-owned businesses in other service areas. Support was highest in Ward 1.
Judy Rader, Exelon's director of external communications, isn't buying any of it.
"The poll was conducted for a group that opposes the merger, not by an independent, unbiased surveying organization, but a political consulting firm that also has publicly opposed the merger," she wrote to Utility Dive. "The poll results include the responses of less than 4 percent of those who were sent the survey, and the poll was limited to likely voters, not a representative group of Pepco customers, who include all District of Columbia residents."
Rader says that testimony at PSC and community meetings shows that Exelon has "broad support for the merger in the community," and sent a list of prominent community supporters.
Power DC members staged a protest outside a D.C. Public Service Commission hearing on the merger this morning to correspond with the release of the survey. The PSC has until April 1 to make a final decision on the merger, and Maryland electric regulators also have yet to make a decision. Exelon says it plans to complete the merger in the third quarter of this year if regulators do not block it.
Editor's Note: This post has been updated to reflect comments from Exelon.