Liberty Utilities water rates frozen for more than 2 years (January 20, 2017)

APPLE VALLEY — In what company officials are touting as an opportunity to better engage customers, Liberty Utilities announced a freeze Friday that will lock in base rates at 2017 levels for more than two years.

The 30-month rate freeze is the result of approval of Liberty Utilities, Apple Valley’s December request to delay filing its next general rate case with the California Public Utilities Commission for one year.

CPUC approval came on Dec. 20, according to a letter obtained from the company by the Daily Press, and follows the release of a Dec. 15 Office of Ratepayer Advocates letter that objected to Liberty’s request.

In the first letter, the ORA cited a need to examine Liberty’s next general rate case as soon as possible and said uncertainty exists regarding Liberty’s reduced capital spending relative to the levels adopted by the commission.

Given this recent decrease in capital spending in 2016, the Commission should require Liberty Apple Valley to move forward with its GRC on schedule beginning in January 2017 to examine rates that will be effective January 1, 2018, the letter stated.

The now-approved request also allows Liberty to consolidate regulatory filings with its water system in southeast Los Angeles County, a move the company said will lead to savings that will be passed along to customers.

In a statement, Tony Penna, Liberty’s vice president and general manager, said the CPUC’s approval will reduce regulatory costs in addition to stabilizing water rates in the town.

The base rate freeze, consolidated regulatory schedule and expanded customer outreach reflect Liberty Utilities’ transparency, accountability, and commitment to the Apple Valley community, Penna said.

It should be noted that the freeze comes after an increase of nearly 5 percent to base rates that took effect Jan. 1.

Penna also noted the delayed filing allows the company an opportunity to collaborate with community leaders regarding operations, maintenance and investment in the local water system.

It remains uncertain how much collaboration, if any, will occur given Liberty is currently locked in eminent-domain litigation with the Town of Apple Valley.

Mayor Scott Nassif told the Daily Press that Liberty’s action is not a rate freeze.

Consumers will notice higher rates on their bills for January because Liberty applied for, received approval for and has implemented a 4.88 percent rate increase for the 2017 calendar year, Nassif said. The Office of Ratepayer Advocates objected to Liberty’s recent rate request because it was based on a capital spending plan that Liberty is not meeting.

As a result, according to Nassif, Liberty might be charging far more than they should be.

This ‘freeze’ is an attempt to escape scrutiny of their current, exorbitant rate structure for another year, he said. Liberty has routinely used advice letters to increase rates in the past with little notice to customers.

Meanwhile, Liberty officials said that during the freeze period, which ends June 30, 2019, the company will make its mandated annual regulatory filings for a customer credit or surcharge to ensure it collects only the 2017 authorized revenue levels approved by the CPUC.

Source: Matthew, Daily Press (see also the January 24, 2017 print edition)