CPUC could vote on rate increase next month (October 25, 2015)

Residents urged to contact CPUC

APPLE VALLEY — The California Public Utilities Commission can vote to finalize a proposed 28.7 percent rate increase for Apple Valley Ranchos Water ratepayers after a 30-day public comment period, CPUC officials said Friday.

The CPUC proposed to approve the increase Oct. 16 after a final settlement agreement was reached by Ranchos and the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, according to documents related to the rate-setting case. Ranchos initially filed its request for a rate increase in September.

The comment period is currently open, and in addition to public comments, all parties involved in the case— including Ranchos’ current owner Park Water Company, the Town of Apple Valley and the ORA — are allowed to comment as well. Town Councilman Art Bishop urges Apple Valley residents to participate during the comment period by sending comments to the CPUC.

(Residents) need to take this opportunity to make their comments seen, Bishop said. If (residents) question the validity of this (rate increase), they should let the CPUC know. We already pay higher rates than anyone I know.

Bishop added that residents should desire to know exactly how the 28.7 percent rate increase will be levied onto Apple Valley customers. Bishop added that the town has always questioned the validity and need for these rate increases.

Ranchos officials say the increase is necessary and that the average customer who meets state water conservation mandates will see their bill go up by less than 3 percent. Water sales are currently down over 30 percent, according to Ranchos Manager of Financial Services Eric Larsen.

(That is) due to our conservation efforts, Larsen told the Press Dispatch, (and) the implementation of our water-shortage contingency plan, as well as the drought surcharges. Fixed costs don’t drop when water use does.

Opening comments from the parties involved are due by Nov. 5. Reply comments are due five days later.

Following the close of the comment period, the decision could be heard and voted on as early as Nov. 19 at the CPUC’s business meeting, officials said.

The proposed decision has no legal effect until the commission hears the item and votes to approve it, documents state.

The town will be represented by its legal counsel, Best Best & Krieger, when the decision is heard by the CPUC, according to Bishop.

The CPUC’s decision tentatively authorizes revenue requirements for Ranchos to the tune of $22.3 million for the years 2015, 2016 and 2017. Ranchos’ initial proposed request was for approximately $24.1 million.

When the proposed approval of the rate hike was announced this past week, Mayor Pro Tem Barb Stanton said the increase is a bitter pill to swallow despite it being lower than Ranchos’ initial request of more than 31 percent. Meanwhile, Park Water CEO Chris Schilling stressed that customers who are abiding by the state directive to conserve water will not see a large increase.

As required by Governor Jerry Brown’s statewide water reduction mandate, Ranchos ratepayers must collectively decrease water consumption by 28 percent — a target they have exceeded every month since the conservation regulation took effect in May. CPUC documentation states that the agency took those conservation efforts into account when proposing to approve the rate hike, stating that the increase will avoid a disincentive for conservation.

The average residential customer who achieves the conservation goals set by Brown’s April 1 Executive Order will see their bill increase by $3.41, or 2.64 percent, according to the CPUC.

What the CPUC says is that customers who persist in using pre-drought levels of consumption will see a 28.7 percent increase in their bill, Larsen said, but that customers whose consumption is the ‘new normal’ will only see a 2.64 percent increase in their bill compared to last year.

Public comments can be made to the CPUC by calling 866-849-8390, emailing [email protected] or writing to 505 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102.

Source: Matthew Cabe, Daily Press