Liberty Utilities eyes 17 percent rate hike for Tahoe-Truckee customers | SierraSun.com

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Liberty Utilities eyes 17 percent rate hike for Tahoe-Truckee customers

Upcoming meetings

Thursday, Jan. 7: 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., North Tahoe Event Center, Kings Beach

Friday, Jan. 8: 1 and 6 p.m., city of South Lake Tahoe council chambers, South Lake Tahoe

More online: Visit bit.ly/1Ozha3B to learn more and to view Liberty Utilities’ general rate case application.

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By the numbers

Below is a sampling of future rates based on a proposed 17.34 percent increase:

Residential: 14.26 cents per kilowatt hour (current) v. 16.73 cents/kWh (future)

Small commercial: 15.38 cents/kWh v. 18.05 cents/kWh

Medium commercial: 12.56 cents/kWh v. 14.74 cents/kWh

Large commercial: 12.18 cents/kWh v. 14.29 cents/kWh

Source: Liberty Utilities

KINGS BEACH, Calif. — Starting this new year, Liberty Utilities customers could see their electric bills go up if the company's proposed rate increase is approved.

In May 2015, the company filed a general rate case application with the California Public Utilities Commission, requesting an overall increase of 17.34 percent over present rates, effective retroactively to Jan. 1, 2016, if approved.

"Liberty Utilities requests an increase in its general rates to continue its focus on safety and reliability and to recover the costs of (1) investment in and the costs associated with the ownership of infrastructure facilities and (2) increases in operations and maintenance costs," the application states.

Factored into its request is work Liberty recently completed in replacing overtaxed transmission lines from Martis Valley to the Northstar Substation, as part of a larger $46 million line upgrade project that will encompass the North and West shores and Truckee.

These electric lines are some of the oldest in California, having been built in 1959 and 1971, respectively, and have for years experienced capacity issues, according to Liberty.

"Our most recent annual customer survey … noted that our customers have seen reliability increase since we've made some major improvements to our system," Greg Sorensen, president of Liberty Utilities-California, said in a statement. "Unfortunately, improvements to the aging electrical system we acquired in 2011 are expensive, and our rates will reflect the CPUC-approved investments we've made."

While a 17.34 percent hike is requested, the CPUC will determine the final increase and how and when it will be distributed among all customer classes, said Ken Wittman, a senior manager with Liberty Utilities.

Any increase would go into effect in its entirety starting in 2016, remaining relatively flat for 2017 and 2018, he said.

"There may be smaller adjustments — both increases and decreases — during that three-year time period as required by the CPUC," Wittman said.

Rates are subject to adjustment if certain fees and taxes paid by Liberty Utilities increase or decrease during those three years, according to the company, such as fuel costs, for instance.

If approved at the 17.34 percent rate, Liberty Utilities would generate an additional $13.571 million in annual revenue, or $40.713 million over the next three years.

Prior to any decision, hearings will be held next week in Kings Beach and South Lake Tahoe to allow public comment.

CPUC Administrative Law Judge Katherine MacDonald will be at the meetings to listen to comments and opinions on the application; while one or more commissioners may attend, no decisions will be reached.

According to Liberty, all evidence including testimony will be considered in CPUC's decision-making process.

Liberty hopes the CPUC makes a ruling by mid-year 2016, Wittman said, but no date has been scheduled.

The last time Liberty filed a general rate case was in 2012 after it had acquired Sierra Pacific Power Company/NV Energy's California service territory a year earlier. In that instance, the company's rate increased by 4.97 percent, which took effect Jan 1, 2013.

Every three years, California utilities are required to file a general rate case with the CPUC, allowing the state to conduct a review of a utility's revenues, expenses and investments to establish an approved revenue requirement.

Liberty Utilities serves roughly 49,000 electric customers in California, including in and around Lake Tahoe. Nearly 80 percent of its customers are in the basin.