On Monday, Sept. 17, Bear Valley Electric Service will begin pleading its case for a rate increase. The city of Big Bear Lake, Big Bear Area Regional Wastewater Agency and the Department of Ratepayer Advocates will make their case for holding the line.
In February, Bear Valley Electric filed a general rate case application asking for a 7.79 percent increase. Included in the application were provisions for offsetting sales shortfall, upgrading infrastructure, undergrounding utility lines, and rebates for solar energy. The original proposal called for an agreement with Snow Summit Mountain Resort for upgrades through a share savings program, allowing the resort to use electricity during off-peak hours rather than using diesel for snowmaking.
In rebuttal testimony following the public participation hearings held in Big Bear in August, Bear Valley Electric noted that changes to its original request included withdrawing plans for a new supplemental energy rate, withdrawal of addition to plant dollars for the upgrade to the Snow Summit substation and removal of associated revenue form the two items. Other items were also reduced, according to the document, which states the overall effect of the changes is a reduction to request for revenue increases from $4.01 million to $3.7 million.
The Division of Ratepayer Advocates filed a response in August prior to the local hearings that recommends a revenue decrease for Bear Valley Electric customers. The DRA recommendation would lower consumers’ monthly bills.
Evidentiary hearings are scheduled for Monday through Wednesday, Sept. 17-19, in San Francisco. All parties to the rate case, including those who formally filed opposition, are entitled to present testimony of experts and witnesses and cross examine the other sides’ experts and witnesses.
According to Jim Wuehler of the DRA, the administrative law judge hears all the testimony, reviews all the rebuttals and responses, and weighs all the evidence. She will look for the stronger case and at the conclusion of the hearings, each party submits a brief outlining its case.
At the same time, settlement talks have begun. It’s a give and take process, according to Wuehler and Harry Scarborough, general manager of Bear Valley Electric. Settlement talks are preliminary until after the evidentiary hearings when they are more detailed.
The actual hearings are open to the public and it’s conducted similar to a court case, Wuehler said. Only the parties are allowed to provide testimony.
“The bottom line is we try to get the best deal for ratepayers,” Wuehler said of the DRA’s position. It’s rare for either side to win on all points, but each side will argue its case diligently, he said.
Once the hearings are complete and the briefs submitted, it’s up to the judge to draft a decision, which is submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission. The commission can adopt the decision as presented or draft an alternate decision. The alternate must follow the evidence that was introduced into the formal record, Wuehler said.
The full commission must adopt a decision, whether it’s the judge’s version or the alternate.
Wuehler said the goal is for a decision to be in place by the end of the year. Bear Valley wants its rate increase to take effect in January 2013 if approved.
If the parties reach a settlement, that is submitted to the commission. The commission won’t accept a black box decision. They want to know how and why the settlement was reached, Wuehler said.
Scarborough said four members of the Bear Valley Electric staff, along with three staff members from the parent company and five outside consultants will attend the evidentiary hearings.
This Grizzly reporter will also be in San Francisco reporting on the hearings and testimony.
To contact reporter Judi Bowers email