Legislators Applaud ‘Unprecedented’ Modifications To Suez Rate Case

PRESS RELEASE– The conservation so passionately called for by Rockland County Legislator Harriet Cornell and other local water stewards may soon be a reality following a draft order by the Public Service Commission concerning a rate hike request by Suez Water.

The PSC last week decided not to accept a three-year joint proposal that would have hiked local water bills by a total of more than $5 million annually. Instead, the Commission announced a plan that a spokesman later said contained “unprecedented modifications” when it came to an existing joint proposal.

The PSC’s modified order is detailed and will take time to scrutinize, but Cornell, who is also chair of the Rockland County Task Force on Water Resources Management and chair of the Legislature’s Environmental Committee, said it appeared to offer strong incentives for meaningful conservation.

“I have repeatedly argued that Rockland County cannot get a good grip on its water future with a robust plan for conservation,” Cornell said. “This must encompass many layers – improved utility infrastructure to curb leaks, the installation of efficient water fixtures in homes and businesses, and so much more.

“I want to thank Public Service Commission Chair Audrey Zibelman and those on the PSC who were willing to listen to the concerns of the public and to try to implement purposeful conservation solutions,” Cornell said.

The PSC’s modified plan, which was rebuked by large swaths of the public for passing costs on to the public, did cut $8.2 million off the total $38 million Suez sought in reimbursement costs for its failed Haverstraw desalination plant – the project that sparked the grassroots movement for better local input about Rockland’s water supply.

The PSC also reduced the company’s rate of return on the plant’s costs, thereby reducing costs to ratepayers by $960,000, according to the draft order.

On the conservation front, the longtime summer-winter-water-rate-program would become a thing of the past, replaced by a new conservation-oriented rate design.

The plan also calls for stronger leak management, for advanced metering infrastructure to be put in place, and for increased public outreach and education. The overall goal is to reduce water supply demand by more than 3 million gallons a day – twice the reduction called for in Suez’s unmodified plan, according to the PSC.

In addition, the PSC’s modified plan would require a rebate program for low-income customers to be put in place, and require Suez to study the feasibility of a cost-effective direct installation program.

Margie Turrin, chair of the Water Task Force’s Conservation Committee, hailed the PSC’s efforts.

“It is a win for Rockland ratepayers that the PSC chose to modify the Joint Proposal in order to strengthen the conservation measures, and the company’s commitment to those measures, both central to managing Rockland’s water and the success of the new rate plan proposal,” Turrin said. “The Conservation Committee for Rockland’s Water Task Force hopes to work alongside Suez in making water conservation part of everyday practice and conversation in our county.”

Overall, the modified plan would allow the company annual revenue increases of $4.87 million for each of the next three years. The revenue is for typical business operating expenses and for part of about $29.2 million in reimbursement for the Haverstraw plant; the complete reimbursement would be paid out over a 15-year period.

Under the plan, a single-family home using 9 ccfs of water per month would see their annual bill increase by 0.8 percent in 2017 ($6.12 per year), 7.7 percent in 2018 ($57.60 per year) and 7.3 percent in 2019 ($58.44 per year). One ccf (hundred cubic feet) is equivalent to 748 gallons.

The PSC says the rates were set up to encourage conservation.

“Water conservation is the least costly way to ensure good water service and an adequate supply,” Cornell said. “We’ll need to review the details of this plan to be sure Rockland residents are being treated fairly.”

Suez must approve the modified plan for it to go into effect. If the company does not, a one-year plan would be put in place, with a monthly rate increase of $3.64, or an annual bill hike of $43.68. The
company would then need to launch a new rate case if it wants an additional increase.

The environmental organization Scenic Hudson also applauded the conservation measures.