Liberty Utilities customers to see rates increase in 2017 | RecordCourier.com

Liberty Utilities customers to see rates increase in 2017

Staff Reports

Liberty Utilities customers around Lake Tahoe in California can expect to see varying rate increases starting with the new year.

Liberty, in 2015 and 2016, submitted a series of interconnected rate adjustment requests for both increases and decreases. The net effect of these requests will be that average residential and small commercial customers (A1) will see an increase of less than 1 percent, while average medium and large commercial customers (A2 and A3) will see increases of approximately 16 and 17 percent.

The rate adjustment includes increases based on capital improvements including two major projects:

Luning Solar Project

This 50-megawatt solar installation, located in Mineral County, is the first-ever solar facility owned by Liberty Utilities. Once it is put into service in first quarter of 2017 it will supply about 25 percent of Liberty customers' energy needs. Power generated from this new facility will replace energy currently purchased from other sources.

According to Liberty, the capital costs associated with this project will decrease in the years following 2017 due to depreciation and customers will correspondingly pay a declining amount.

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This solar plant will also contribute toward Liberty meeting California's mandated Renewables Portfolio Standard.

650 Electric Line Upgrade Project

Phase one of this project was completed in the fall of 2016 and consisted primarily of upgrading and replacing an aging power line between Truckee and Kings Beach to improve reliability, according to Liberty. Old wooden poles were replaced with those constructed of a steel material that weathers with time to resemble wood. In addition, wires were replaced to eventually operate at a higher voltage.

Other significant system improvements included projects in Alpine and Mono counties and the Portola area.

An annual investment of $2.5 million in vegetation management also contributed to Liberty's overall rate increase. Projects include trimming trees and branches around structures to reduce outage and fire-related risks. These efforts have proven to be effective, especially given the multi-year California drought and resultant dead and diseased trees in the Sierra Nevada.

The rate adjustment also includes decreases due to savings in fuel and energy costs.

The California Public Utilities Commission requires utilities to notify their customers of any pending rate increase 30 days prior to implementation. Liberty Utilities sent a notice to all customers in late November to inform them about an increase effective Jan. 1. After the notice was sent, the CPUC approved decisions in two other Liberty Utilities proceedings, both of which reduced rates resulting in the overall net impact.

As a regulated utility, any expenses incurred to provide power to customers must be reviewed and approved by the CPUC. Of the total rate customers pay for their Liberty Utilities service, 90 percent is a direct pass-through of Liberty's costs, with 50 percent of that covering fuel and energy costs alone, according to Liberty.

Liberty Utilities offers free advice and programs to help customers manage their electricity costs, including offering a free energy audit by an energy expert. Customers may also be income-eligible for programs that help pay for utility expenses and make energy-efficient improvements. Visit http://www.libertyutilities.com and click on the "Smart Energy Use" link at the top of the screen or call 1-800-782-2506.