By TARA ALATORRE
PHOENIX – Water rates for all EPCOR customers in Anthem could increase by about 36 percent for typical residential consumers because the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) could not come to a majority decision regarding the utility company’s consolidation and rate case during its Special Open Meeting on January 25.
The ACC’s vote was split, so it directed EPCOR to begin the process of determining interim rates in the meantime.
EPCOR filed its request on January 31, proposing to impose a $2.65 surcharge per thousand gallons of water consumed, according Anthem’s Director of Communications and Public Affairs, Kristi Northcutt.
“That amount is better than the Judge’s recommended standalone rates, which would have resulted in a 59 percent increase for Anthem, but the lesser of two evils necessarily doesn’t count as a win,” stated Northcutt in an email, who has also been serving as team co-lead on the EPCOR rate case along with Anthem Board President Roger Willis.
The ACC will hear the interim rate case at a public hearing on February 20, starting at 10 a.m. The interim rates will be back dated to February 1, until EPCOR’s the case is decided on by the ACC, which is unknown at this time.
A public comment session is scheduled for February 19, at 10 a.m. at the ACC office, 1200 W. Washington in Phoenix.
At the formal hearing on February 20, the Anthem Community Council will address its issues with the Administrative Law Judge, while it also continues advocating for better rates for Anthem residents with written and verbal testimony, according to Northcutt.
The ACC’s vote on January 25, regarding EPCOR’s rate case was split with Chairman Bob Burns and Commissioner Boyd Dunn voting in favor of the Recommended Opinion and Order (ROO) issued by a judge in December. The ROO favors a standalone rate design over EPCOR’s proposal to consolidate its 11 water districts in Arizona and establish equal rates statewide phased-in over five years.
Commissioners Justin Olson and Andy Tobin voted against the ROO after debating and discussing several amendments, and Commissioner Sandra Kennedy recused herself from discussions and voting on the case.
The ROO issued in December calls for stand-alone rates that could have caused a 59 percent increase in water rates for EPCOR’s Anthem customers, which is why the Anthem Community Council was in favor of EPCOR’s proposal for consolidation with five years to phase-in new rates.
Anthem currently pays the fourth highest rates in all of EPCOR’s 11 Arizona districts, which is $50.91 for 7,000 gallons of water, with the average customer using 9,000 gallons per billing cycle.
While consolidation would ultimately result in lower rates for most districts, Sun City, Sun City West and Mohave districts would see an increase in rates if the consolidation was approved as requested by EPCOR.
Consolidating EPCOR’s Arizona water districts would result in an eight percent decrease for Anthem customers, while Sun City and Sun City West would see an increase ranging from 17 to 50 percent, according to case documents filed with the ACC.
According to EPCOR, it needs to invest more than $430 million in the next decade for infrastructure improvement on all its Arizona water systems. The utility company says it recommended the consolidation because stand-alone rates would cause a net increase in each district.
EPCOR is the largest private water company in Arizona.
For more information about the interim rate proposal visit azcc.gov and enter the eDocket case number WS-01303A-19-0011. Public comment is being accepted online for those that can not attend the Feb. 19 meeting. For information about the public hearing on Feb. 20 visit: http://docket.images.azcc.gov/0000195730.pdf.