Plymouth Utilities gets clean bill of fiscal health, files for electric rate hike

by Emmitt B. Feldner of The Review staff

PLYMOUTH – Plymouth Utilities is seeking a 4.95 percent electric rate increase to bring it’s rate of return closer to the stateallowed number.

The City Council approved the rate increase application last Tuesday. The state Public Service Commission will decide the request following a public hearing.

The council also received the 2013 annual audit for Plymouth Utilities from Aaron Worthmann of Virchow Krause.

“I’d say the utilities are very healthy and things look good,” Worthmann summarized for the council.

Tammy Freeman, manager of billing and rate services for WPPI Energy, explained the reasons for the requested electric rate increase, which she said could take effect Jan. 1, 2015, at the earliest.

She noted that the utilities last reviewed the electric rate about three years ago. “We recommend you have a rate review every two to three years,” Freeman told the council.

City Administrator/Utilities Manager Brian Yerges pointed out that the last rate review was conducted before the new Utilities Operations Center was built and opened.

Freeman said the rate increase is needed to recover increased expenses, recover costs associated with distribution improvements and realign rates with costs.

The PSC allows a rate of return of up to 6.25 percent for electric utilities, Freeman said. In 2013, Plymouth Utilities showed a rate of return of 2.33 percent for the electric utility.

In his report, Worthmann said the electric utility has not seen a lot of growth in sales over the past three to four years.

“The increase in your customer base has been outpaced by the conservation trends,” in electricity use, Worthmann explained – something that is impacting many utilities, public and private.

“It’s the same on the water side,” he added.

Worthmann praised Plymouth Utilities for keeping its debt relatively low while doing a good job of managing rates.

The council adopted an ordinance prohibiting the use of airborne open flame devices in the city.

City Attorney Crystal Fieber said the ordinance - aimed at sky lanterns, sky candles and fire balloons – was modeled on a similar ordinance recently adopted by the city of Sheboygan.

“The issue came up recently in the city of Sheboygan,” Yerges explained.

“I don’t expect this to be something that you’re going to see enforced often,” Fieber admitted.

The council did amend the ordinance to make clear that the ban does not apply to manned hot air balloons, only to unmanned devices.

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