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What Ada County just did in response to Suez’s request for a 22% water-rate increase

Posted at 12:27 PM, Nov 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-06 14:27:29-05

BOISE, Idaho — This article was written by John Sowell of the Idaho Statesman.

Ada County on Friday filed a motion with the Idaho Public Utilities Commission opposing Suez Water Idaho’s request for a 22.3% rate boost.

“We believe this significant rate increase is excessive and comes at a time when families in Ada County are already struggling to make ends meet,” County Commission Chair Kendra Kenyon said in a news release.

The increase, sought by Suez in a PUC filing last month, would affect 98,000 water customers in Boise and unincorporated Ada County. The increase would add about $80 annually to the average residential customer’s bill and $282 for businesses.

Last year, the county paid Suez more than $130,000 for water.

“A 22.3% increase would directly affect taxpayers at a time when everyone is cutting costs,” Commissioner Patrick Malloy said in the release. “We simply have to be good stewards of county taxpayer dollars.”

A Suez spokesperson told the Idaho Statesman that she was preparing a response to the county’s filing.

Suez, a French-owned company, last received a rate increase five years ago. The company wants to increase its rate of return from 4.1% to 7.5%. In a filing with the Public Utilities Commission, the company said that would be a “fair rate of return on Suez Water’s investment in property used and useful in rendering water service.”

In 2015, Suez asked regulators for a 13.2% increase. The PUC allowed the company to raise its rates by 6%.

In its filing, Ada County asks the PUC to grant its intervenor status. That would allow the county to challenge the rate increase as a party in the action and argue before the PUC.

The filing says the county has a “direct and substantial interest” in Suez’s application because it owns a number of buildings that depend on water from Suez.

“As stewards of taxpayers’ dollars, Ada County has an obligation to ensure that rates the county is paying for the water are fair and equitable,” the filing by Ada County Prosecuting Attorney Jan Bennetts said.

If the price hike is approved, Suez said its revenue would increase by $10.2 million. In addition to offsetting the increased cost of water delivery, the money would also help offset increased operating expenses and costs associated with plant additions, Suez said in its filing.

Suez recently completed $115 million in upgrades to the water company’s Boise system. The improvements made over five years include new pipes, new pumping stations to ensure adequate water pressure and new treatment technologies to maintain clean water.

They include 65 miles of new water mains throughout Boise, Meridian and Eagle. Among those, the $3 million Spurwing Pipeline in West Boise, Meridian and Eagle provided water, enhanced pressure and fire protection capability.

Suez said it spent $3.9 million for a new million-gallon tank at Sunset Peak to provide water to customers in the Boise Foothills and replaced the control system at one of its water treatment plants.

The company also invested $7.5 million in a state-of-the-art meter reading system. Customers will be able to track water consumption hour by hour and set conservation goals online.

On Oct. 21, the three-member PUC suspended Suez’s request that the higher rates go into effect Oct. 31. The suspension is set for six months, unless the PUC orders the increase or grants a lower rate increase.