Liberty Utilities proposes significant rate hike for fire prevention
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — As a way to combat wildfire risk, Liberty Utilities has proposed a significant rate increase, but the proposal has created a wildfire of sorts within the community.
Liberty customers recently received a notice in the mail informing them of possible rate increases of about 41%, or $48, in the winter and 42%, or $37, for the summer.
The driving factor of this proposed increase is wildfire.
Dan Marsh, manager, rates and regulatory affairs for Liberty Utilities (California), said the money would be used to harden their systems to reduce wildfire risk, increase vegetation management and cover the cost of wildfire insurance which has increased 10-fold.
“Historically, we’ve increased rates by 5-10% so this increase is A-typical but all utility companies in the state are going through this,” said Liberty Utilities President Chris Alario.
PG&E can be blamed for the cost of insurance skyrocketing. The companies’ faulty equipment was responsible for the deadly wildfire that burned down most of Paradise, Calif. in 2018. The company pleaded guilty in June 2020 for 84 separate counts of involuntary manslaughter and one felony count of unlawfully starting a fire.
“After PG&E pleaded guilty…. the insurance market imploded,” Alario said.
A common refrain in the Tahoe Basin is, ‘let’s not be the next Paradise,’ and that’s exactly what Liberty is hoping to avoid.
“We’re upgrading our systems to mitigate the risk of our systems starting a fire,” Alario said.
Liberty said it has already done a lot of behind the scenes work to keep customers safe.
“We’ve taken this very seriously as a company,” Alario said.
Still, the drastic increase gave many customers sticker shock. At a Coffee with the Mayor event on Wednesday, several residents asked if there was anything the city could do to step-in.
City Manager Joe Irvin said they could not impact the rate increase but they will be renegotiating the franchise agreement, which will be brought to the council on Aug. 3.
“We’re starting to push on them and take a little more control of what we need locally,” Irvin said.
The rate increase is not yet set in stone. It’s a proposal the utility district gave to the California Public Utilities Commission.
This is a legal proceeding so there will still be negotiations, settlement discussions, testimony given and public participation opportunities. If the commission approves the proposal, rates won’t be impacted until 2022.
“Even if the commission approves the proposal 100%, we will still be the second lowest rate in the state,” Marsh said.
The company also has their low income customers on their minds.
They currently offer a 20% discount for low income customers but they’ve asked the commission to increase the discount to 25%. They also provide energy efficiency work for low income customers at no cost to help them reduce their bills.
Liberty Utilities also encourages all their customers to subscribe to their monthly newsletters and follow them on social media so they can learn about the project Liberty is working on and see where their money is being spent.
Customers may supply public comments at https://apps.cpuc.ca.gov/apex/f?p=401:65:0::NO:RP,57,RIR:P5_PROCEEDING_SELECT:A2105017. As of Thursday there were over 70 comments.
For more information, visit https://california.libertyutilities.com/south-lake-tahoe//residential.
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