PUCN denies water company appeal

The Public Utilities Commission of Nevada met in Carson City and Las Vegas Wednesday. Above in Carson City is Utilities Hearing Officer Donald Lomoljo, Chairman Joseph Reynolds and Commissioner Bruce Breslow. Below in Las Vegas is Commissioner Ann Pongracz.

Public Utilities Commission of Nevada

CARSON CITY – A deadline to reprice Spring Creek water bills looms for Great Basin Water Company as their appeal for a rehearing failed before the Public Utilities Commission.

PUCN denied GBWC’s appeal Nov. 8. The decision comes as the water company has until Nov. 21 to calculate refunds to Spring Creek customers affected by a water meter reading issue in 2016.

GBWC was ordered by the commission Sept. 19 to resolve a water meter reading issue for Spring Creek water customers and begin repairing customer relations.

In that order, the PUCN denied the water company’s stance that the issue was resolved “consistent with its tariff.”

The company was given 60 days from the issuance of the order to reprice water bills for residential customers at $3.47 per 1,000 gallons between January and October 2016. It excluded commercial customers, customers who had their bills previously adjusted, and customers who have a smart water meter.

On Oct. 5, the GBWC filed a petition to rehear and/or reconsider the order. In a statement, Wendy Barnett, GBWC president, said the company took “responsibility for the situation; however we do have some questions about the order.”

The company further stated they were “asking the Commission to reconsider the preponderance of evidence presented in the initial proceedings on the matter.”

In reading the PUCN’s order, Commission Ann C. Pongracz stated GBWC failed to meet the standards of the Nevada Administration Code that requires the company to specifically identify parts of the order that were “unlawful, unreasonable, or based on erroneous conclusions of law or mistaken facts” and show why additional evidence “could not have been introduced at the hearing.”

“Rather, the petitioner seeks to reargue the matters already considered and decided … Great Basin simply asks the Commission to change its mind,” Pongracz said.

Chairman Joe Reynolds said he supported the Spring Creek customers and believed the order was “the right thing to do,” and noted the outpouring of residents’ complaints at two PUCN consumer sessions in April and September.

“We needed a remedy,” Reynolds said, “…there needed to be a fix to the problem.”

“This problem was created by Great Basin Water Company, whether it was their employee, lack of supervision, [or] lack of training. They created this problem,” said Reynolds.

“I disagree [with] the assertion that this was retroactive rate-making,” Reynolds said. “It was solving a problem that needed to be solved for the benefit of those residents.”

Commissioner Bruce Breslow also sympathized with Spring Creek customers.

“I hope the problems are over and I hope the solutions are happening quickly, because the people of Spring Creek have been dealing with this a long time,” Breslow said. “I hope it does not come back to us.”

Present at the hearing, but not voting, was Utilities Hearing Officer Donald Lomoljo. Lomoljo presided at the PUCN consumers meeting in September.

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Before Wednesday’s ruling on Oct. 30, the GBWC filed a notice of intent with the PUCN to file for adjustment in rates. The company cited four reasons including investment in utility facilities, operating and depreciation expenses, cost of capital, and cost of service, noting they are not preparing a cost of services study for the meeting.

GBWC proposes to meet with the PUCN staff in early December before the company files its application on Dec. 29.

Great Basin Water Company did not respond to a request for a statement.

GBWC deadlines

The petition for rehearing and/or reconsideration did not change the timeline of the original order for Great Basin Water Co.

GBWC has until Nov. 15 to submit the steps they are taking to improve customer relations, which they must do annually until 2020, and they have 150 days to show they have complied with the order’s requirements.

GBWC was ordered to “reprice each Spring Creek customer’s water bill for the months of January through October, 2016, at the lowest Tier 1 rate of $3.47 per 1,000 gallons” within 60 days of the Sept. 21 order.

By Dec. 21, the company is required to submit a report outlining its compliance with the repricing, provide a status of accounts and options offered by GBWC, and submit a report showing the costs the company incurred to prepare for and participate in the docket.

A quote by Chairman Joe Reynolds was corrected from a previous version. 

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Staff writer for the Elko Daily Free Press

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