Power utilities at Tahoe seeking hike in rates

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — As the snow fell during this years first storms trees toppled taking power lines down with them and caused the majority of Tahoe’s Basin residents and businesses to lose power, some for multiple days. 

As a part of mountain living, power outages often do not have a lone source. Alison Vai, senior manager of Liberty, communications and marketing told the Tribune, “Liberty mobilized on Thursday, Dec. 9, when bad weather was predicted; nine crews were working around the clock with 70 crew in the field and over 100 people, including management, working on the storm.”

NV Energy’s Jennifer Schuricht said, “We had at least 32 downed lines,” during the recent storm which she said had a hand in causing outages.

One local took to Facebook to express frustration with not only the outage but the timing on announcing a potential rate increase, “36 hours without power … Just received the letter in the mail [Liberty Utilities is] raising their prices 14%.”

Proposed rate increase.
Provided Liberty Utility Kurt Althof

According to the letter sent to consumers, “The application is requesting a rate increase for the recovery of $42.532 million” to occur over a three year period.

If approved the the average residential monthly bill using 635 kWh per month would increase by approximately $15.32 or 14% per month.

Vai said, “The last increase went into effect in October. Rates changed to reflect the pass-through cost of energy purchased from NV Energy.”

Liberty’s blended volumetric rates have declined from 2021 to 2022.
Provided by Liberty Utility Alison Vai

Manager of Liberty and Regional Communications Kurt Althof told the Tribune, “The rate increase is totally unrelated to the recent winter storm-related outages. Liberty’s requested rate increase was filed to request recovery of recorded costs for past various emergency incidents, including the Caldor and Tamarack fires, the December 2021 winter storms, and the implementation of Liberty’s Wildfire Mitigation Plan, which was designed to reduce the risk of wildfires in Liberty’s service territory.”

The California Public Utilities Commission sets the standard for annual rate increases for investor-owned utilities companies, like Liberty, which means passing the costs to customers dollar-for-dollar due to the Energy Cost Adjustment Clause.

NV Energy is preparing for increases in rates to take place Jan. 1, as well.

Schuricht told the Tribune on Thursday that, “The price of natural gas, which is the primary fuel used to generate electricity in Nevada, has increased nationwide during this past year. Our quarterly rate adjustments reflect the cost of fuel and purchased power we use to generate electricity and the natural gas used to serve our natural gas customers in northern Nevada. NV Energy makes no profit on this revenue.”

In addition to the planned increased, a decision is pending on a rate case intended to seek a change in funding to operate and recover costs incurred to support the growth of northern Nevada and improve reliability, according to NV Energy. If approved, these additional increases would also go impact consumers starting Jan. 1.

In addition to weather and fire, construction like that on the Nevada line reported in September by NV Energy, who sources the power distributed through Liberty Utilities as well as Truckee Public Utilities, could have something to do with outages.

Althof told the Tribune, “Liberty is unable to comment on NV Energy’s redundancy plan/project, as it is not Liberty’s plan or project.” However, he did add, “Some NV Energy outages may have an impact on service for Liberty customers.”

“Liberty has several projects planned to improve the reliability and resiliency of its system, including covered conductor installations, pole replacements, undergrounding, and microgrid installations,” Althof said in response to the plans Liberty has for future renovations for the service.

He concluded that planned work includes the notification of affected customers in advance when it requires an outage of service. 

In 2017, Liberty sited severe storms causing outages and damage to equipment as the main reasons for more than 5% increase in service fees. The Tribune reported Liberty Utilities said the winter storms of 2017 required the company to supplement its work crews, and forced Liberty to procure new maintenance and capital equipment. Now increases are sought to improve infrastructure.

Consumers are encouraged to reach out to their service provider for assistance with their bills. Liberty customers are asked to report their comments regarding the proposed increase to:

Liberty asks the consumer to be an active party to this increase, saying “your participation by providing your thoughts on Liberty’s request can help the CPUC make an informed decision.”

A Liberty employee trudges through snow while trying to restore power at Lake Tahoe.

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