Commission denies United Water monthly billing
The Idaho Public Utilities Commission is rejecting a request by United Water Idaho, Inc. to convert from bi-monthly to monthly billing and charge residential customers about $1.15 per month to do so.
Even though commission staff and an organization representing low-income customers endorsed the plan, the commission said a barrage of about 340 comments from the company's customers was a factor in persuading the commission to reject the plan.
"It is clear United Water's customers fail to see a benefit, at least one sufficient to justify the increased cost," the commission said. "The commission rarely receives as many customer comments as it did in the case." Further, the commission said, it did not receive quantifiable evidence that there are conservation benefits to monthly billing.
United Water serves about 215,000 customers in the Boise metropolitan area. Last September the company sought commission approval to convert to monthly billings for four reasons: 1) a monthly bill is easier for customers to pay, especially during summer when consumption is highest, 2) monthly billing can enhance water conservation because customers would receive four, rather than two, bills during the summer months of high use which allows them to more quickly make adjustments, 3) monthly billing reduces the incidents of high-bill complaints and 4) monthly billing would double the number of visits to customers' properties by meter readers, enabling quicker detection and troubleshooting of leaks or meter problems.
United Water estimated the additional annual cost to convert to monthly billing would be about $1.12 million, including the cost of new personnel for meter reading, preparation and mailing of bills on a more frequent basis and increased processing and administrative expenses. United Water proposed an increase of 3.75 percent in rates or about $1.15 per month per household. Later, after discussions with commission staff, United Water agreed to lower that increase to 2.95 percent and seek recovery of the remaining amount in the company’s next rate case.
Commission staff as well as the Community Action Partnership of Idaho (CAPAI) said the monthly billing would help households make their payments and alter their consumption habits more quickly. But the vast majority of written comments received from the company's customers said the bi-monthly billing cycle works well enough for them and that rates are already high enough to send a conservation signal.
The commission said it appreciated the effort United Water put into its application, but customers overwhelmingly disputed the benefits identified by the company. "Therefore, the commission cannot find that a rate increase to pay for the program is in the public interest."
A full text of the commission’s order, along with other documents related to this case, are available on the commission’s Web site at www.puc.idaho.gov. Click on “File Room” and then on “Water Cases” and scroll down to Case No. UWI-W-07-04.
Interested parties may petition the commission for reconsideration by no later than Feb. 22. Petitions for reconsideration must set forth specifically why the petitioner contends that the order is unreasonable, unlawful or erroneous. Petitions should include a statement of the nature and quantity of evidence the petitioner will offer if reconsideration is granted.
Petitions can be delivered to the commission at 472 W. Washington St. in Boise, mailed to P.O. Box 83720, Boise, ID, 83720-0074, or faxed to 208-334-3762.