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Idaho Public Utilities Commission To Carefully Audit SUEZ Rate Hike Request

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The water provider for much of Ada County wants a rate hike of more than 22%. That means average users could pay $80 more each year. Suez Water Idaho asked for the increase starting October 31, but the Public Utilities Commission said it will delay that by up to six months, a move allowed while the PUC audits the utility to justify the rate hike.

Any time a utility makes a rate increase request, PUC staff evaluates financials, infrastructure costs and the impact to end users.

“We look at those expenses individually and determine if they were prudently incurred, if they were necessary in order to provide service to customers,” said Donn English, Manager of finance and accounting at the utilities commission.

In other words, the math of the rate increase has to match the utility’s spending within reason — plus, a profit margin in order to allow the utility to keep attracting large investors.

In the case of Suez, the filing shows a request to increase both service-based revenue and investor profits.

English says the rate increase request of more than 22% is one of the highest he’s seen in his 17 years at the utilities commission.

Five years ago, Suez raised rates 6% but had requested an increase of 13.2%.

“In 2015, it was an all-party settlement,” English said. “The parties didn’t agree on any specific adjustments or issues but through negotiations agreed that the increase was enough.”

English said rate increase requests are not a case of, ‘reach for the stars to land on the moon,’ despite what it may look like. Each request is considered based on financial evidence. The commission also factors in customer feedback, and the impact of rate hikes on low-income subscribers. Those groups often have advocates at the table during the process, English said.

A settlement could also be reached this time between SUEZ, the PUC and other stakeholders like conservation groups or large users. It’s simply too soon to tell. If not, three utility commissioners could decide in a hearing. Commissioners are appointed by the Governor.

The Public Utilities Commission welcomes feedback on the the proposed rate hike. Submit comments by email to secretary@puc.idaho.gov or adam.rush@puc.idaho.gov, or online here using the case number SUZ-W-20-02. Letters may be sent to the Idaho Public Utilities Commission at PO Box 83720, Boise, ID 83720-0074.

Follow Troy Oppie on Twitter @GoodBadOppie for more local news.

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