Truckee electric, water rates set to rise | SierraSun.com

Truckee electric, water rates set to rise

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun
Seth Lightcap/Sierra SunThe Truckee Donner Public Utility District has approved an electric rate increase to be phased in over two years. Utility customers should expect to pay more when they turn up the heat this winter.
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Like many other energy customers across the country, 12,000 Truckee utility ratepayers will feel the crunch of higher energy costs with the new year.

The Truckee Donner Public Utility District’s board of directors voted 4-1 last month to raise electric rates by 10 percent over a two-year period, beginning with a 7 percent rate hike on Jan. 1.

“[The] fact of the matter is that our wholesale energy costs have gone up…,” said district interim General Manager John Ulrich in a prepared statement announcing the rate change.

The utility board held two public hearings at which no public comment was offered for or against the increases, said district Executive Secretary Barbara Cahill by phone.

Electric rates will rise twice for Truckee residents, once next month, and again in 2009 by 3 percent, adding up to a 10 percent increase over two years. The district’s board decided on the phased approach to ease the financial burden to their customers.

“It’s a big pill to swallow,” said director Ron Hemig in a phone interview. “I think we were trying to find a way to spread it out.”

Absent a sufficient number of protests at the board’s Dec. 5 meeting, water rates are scheduled to go up as well, by 6 percent also on the first of the year, the second half of a rate increase approved in 2006.

Due to the age of the district’s water pipelines and many leaks that need to be repaired, the district needs to fund its existing capital replacement program, Ulrich said. Underfunded in the past, the district historically has had to assume debt to fund its infrastructure replacement program, according to Hemig.

“What we are trying to do with ours is … to catch up, and pay as we go in the future,” Hemig said.

The water service rate increase is the second half of a 12-percent increase the board approved in July, 2006. The first 6-percent increase went into effect last January.

Part of the electric service increase ” 60 cents per month per domestic electric customer ” is to fund California’s million-solar-roof program under Senate Bill 1.

The statute is an unfunded state mandate, with the cost to be passed on to electric customers as a surcharge, said General Services Manager Alan Harry by phone. Harry said the board of directors wants to encourage the public to use the available money to install solar panels.

“Our rebate is the largest in California,” Harry said.

The rebate offered by the Truckee utility subsidizes half the cost of a customer’s home photovoltaic system.

The program pays $5 per watt of delivered power, Harry said. On average, a system using solar energy to generate electricity costs the average homeowner $10 per watt to install, he said.

Harry said it is nothing new that all district customers must pay for the program. He said years ago the state enacted the California Public Benefits Program that required all ratepayers to subsidize conservation programs that they might not all take advantage of.

The surcharge will fund a rebate account maintained by the district that is expected to average $177,400 per year over the program’s 10-year lifespan, Harry said.

The rebate available to customers is scheduled to decline by 7 percent per year, therefore allowing more customers to take advantage of the rebate, albeit at a lesser payout, said Ulrich.

The rebate is predicted to fund over $1.7 million in rebates over the 10-year period, according to the release.