Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The Reston Association hosted a public meeting on Monday evening, March 22nd 2010, to give RELAC customers an opportunity to meet with staff of the Fairfax County department which deals with utilities and cable companies to discuss the proposed RELAC rate increase. The county staff participating in the meeting are attorneys and utility specialists with considerable experience (though not experienced on district A/C, which is highly unusual) and their names and contact information have been posted on this blog. Please feel free to contact them direct to express any views you have regarding the RELAC rate increase.
As you know, several months ago Aqua Virginia filed a rate increase proposal with the State Corporation Commission in Richmond, which regulates utilities in Virginia. The average increase Aqua is asking for RELAC customers is about 56% over existing tariffs, which have not been changed since Aqua bought the company. The documents filed with the SCC indicate that RELAC is steadily losing money and a significant increase is needed to keep RELAC solvent. We were aware of their intent to file for an increase, as the General Manager of Aqua VA, Greg O'Dell, had met several times with a group of affected cluster presidents during the past year and mentioned that they were planning to request a “long overdue” rate increase.
At last Monday’s meeting, County staff explained that they were asked to become engaged in this case in response to concerns expressed by residents on the RELAC system. They have reviewed the materials provided by Aqua as part of the filing, and will be going to Richmond to participate in the April 20 hearing in front of an SCC examiner, and will present the County's views on the requested increase. The County has also arranged with the SCC to hold a second hearing in northern Virginia for the convenience of residents unable to go to Richmond. That meeting will be on the evening of May 3 at 7pm in the Fairfax Count Govt. Center. The Commissioners will review the transcripts of the two hearings prior to making their decision: in other words, the Richmond meeting is not “more important” than the Fairfax meeting and no decision will be made until after both have taken place and all oral and written comments have been reviewed. Aqua's management will only be present at the Richmond hearing, so anyone who is anxious to hear them in person would need to travel to Richmond. Speakers at the Richmond meeting will be under oath, and the County attorney will have the ability to cross-examine Aqua’s team in Richmond.
Based on their analysis of the RELAC accounts, the County staff feel that a slightly lower increase would be justified, since there were a couple of items included by Aqua in the rate calculation which the staff believe should not be included. However, the difference is actually quite small, and the bottom line is that County staff currently believe that RELAC will not be financially viable without a significant increase in revenues. Their analysis does not address the question why Aqua didn't apply for smaller increases before they got into such a deep hole, but simply arises from analysis of operating costs and revenues reported by Aqua.
A number of points were raised after the County staff had completed their explanation, on topics such as the future viability of RELAC, the possiblity of conversion to geothermal cooling, Aqua’s stated desire to sell RELAC in order to get out of the A/C business, asking RA to allow pilot projects to test alternatives, whether shortcomings in RELAC service are inherent in the nature of the system or due to poor maintenance by homeowners, etc. On most of these the County staff had no answers, but urged citizens to express their concerns on the record so that the SCC commissioners have a clear picture of the views of consumers before they rule on a rate increase. Dick Kennedy of Waterview Cluster asked whether service standards could be better defined and enforced, since much of the debate about RELAC is between people satisfied with present cooling service and others who are not, without much data available to inform the debate. The tariff as presently worded is not very clear on the definition of acceptable service (whether water temperature is measured at the plant or at the home, how much flow is required in order to provide adequate cooling, etc.). The County staff answered that this would be an important topic to raise for the commissioners.
In my view, this is probably the most important point coming out of Monday’s meeting: We can’t expect the SCC to engage on topics such as geothermal alternatives or to help Aqua look for a potential buyer. But we could reasonably request them to sharpen the definition of “acceptable service,” and to direct Aqua to introduce a monitoring program which establishes whether this regulated utility is meeting its legal obligation as a precondition for any rate increases.
Thursday, March 25, 2010
RELAC Rate Case no. PUE-2009-00129
SCC home Page
The RELAC case has not been heard yet but an interim rate increase was granted by VA to effect customers beginning with the 2010 season. Notification was sent to all customers in January detailing the rate increase. Should RELAC lose their case, they will be required to reimburse customers for the rate increase.
Fairfax County staff working on the case:
Marilyn McHugh, Assistant County Attorney
Steve Sinclair, Chief, Public Utilities Branch, Department of Cable and Consumer Services, 703-324-5955
Susan Hafeli, Utilities Analyst, Public Utilities Branch, Department of Cable and Consumer Services
Important dates coming up...
RELAC rebuttal deadline to answer concerns already addressed to them by Fairfax County.
Deadline for all written comments to be submitted. Online Submission Link Case #PUE-2009-00129
Initial hearing in Richmond, VA. RELAC will be make statements and be cross examined... Public statements welcome.
Public hearing at Fairfax County Government Center, Conference rooms 2 & 3 at 7pm. Public statements welcome.
In our situation in Hickory Cluster (shown on the Wetlands project map as part of the Colvin Run Watershed project), the erosion is also very advanced and is now threatening a sanitary (sewer) line which runs alongside the stream. Because of the threat to the sewer line, not doing anything is really not an option, therefore the issue is how to optimize a solution which
i) preserves our natural area,
(ii) stops the erosion process, and
(iii) costs the cluster as little as possible.
RA and the Wetland Studies & Solutions people are aware of our concerns and have promised to work with us to ensure the best possible outcome which satisfies their technical requirements as well as our commitment to retaining the wooded areas in Hickory. Since the Wetlands project would also finance replacement of our bridge and repair of the paths along the stream, this is a great opportunity for us provided we can find a workable compromise on the tree removal issue. In my view, if we decline to participate in the RA/Wetlands restoration project (by not voting to approve the required environmental easement) we will forego the 100% financing of their project but will eventually be forced into a less-sophisticated repair scheme because of the sewer issue, with unknown costs to the cluster and no guarantee as to the aesthetic outcome (since many trees are now undercut and in danger of falling, and realignment of the sewer line will inevitably also require major earth moving work).
The Virginia Tech letter illustrates that this is a complex issue, but the technical approach RA and Wetlands are using is considered leading-edge in the field. The letter does not mention the mitigation bank which would finance the project, which is a unique opportunity for the cluster to tackle some long-standing issues at no cost to ourselves. A conventional utility engineering solution forced on us by Fairfax Water might be much less attractive, so I urge all of you to read the materials we have posted and come prepared when the next outreach meeting takes place.
HC Cluster Board President
Stream Restoration/Improvement Meeting
Colvin Run Watershed
Saturday, March 27, 2010
9:30 a.m. - Noon
Lake Anne Elementary School Cafeteria
11510 North Shore Drive, Reston, VA 20190
Lunch will be provided
You are invited to hear about Reston’s Stream Restoration Project in the Colvin Run watershed which is east of Reston Parkway and north of the Dulles Toll Road.
Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc. will be presenting information about the history and purpose of the stream restoration project and the plans for this watershed. Time will be provided for questions and answers.
Please pass this information along to your neighbors!
For more information, contact Nicki Foremsky, RA’s Watershed
Supervisor at 703-435-6560 or Nicki@reston.org or visit the stream
restoration project website at http://reston.wetlandstudies.com or
Friday, March 5, 2010
I have had several conversations with Mr. Steve Sinclair, Chief – Public Utilities Branch (Fairfax County Department of Cable Communications & Consumer Protection), about the plans for Fairfax County to intervene in the proposed rate increase for RELAC as requested by Aqua Virginia. Attorneys from the County attorney’s Office and Mr. Sinclair have asked for RA’s assistance in arranging an initial information gathering session with users of the RELAC System. The session has been scheduled for Monday, 22 March @7:00 p.m. in RA’s Main Conference Room.
It is my understanding that Mr. Sinclair and others would like to hear your concerns and issues regarding the proposed rate increase, as well as your service related issues with the RELAC System. Additionally, they plan to explain the County’s role in the rate case; outline how the State Corporation Commission procedures are set up for the case; and walk you through the public witness process, which allows customers to provide comments at the public hearing on the rate case.
Mr. Sinclair and the others from the County are looking forward to meeting with as many of the RELAC users who can attend the session. Please reach out to others and inform them of the session.
Milton W. Matthews
Chief Executive Officer
RA Vision: Leading the model community where all can live, work, and play.
Monday, March 1, 2010
There is another stream restoration community meeting schedules for March 27th.
They will be giving the same presentation as the January 30th meeting.
Stream Restoration/Improvement Meeting Colvin Run Watershed
Saturday, March 27, 2010 9:30 a.m. - Noon
Lake Anne Elementary School Cafeteria
11510 North Shore Drive, Reston, VA 20190
Lunch will be provided
You are invited to hear about Reston’s Stream Restoration Project in the Colvin Run watershed which is east of Reston Parkway and north of the Dulles Toll Road. Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc. will be presenting information about the history and purpose of the stream restoration project and the plans for this watershed. Time will be provided for a questions and answers. Please pass this information along to your neighbors!
For more information, contact Nicki Foremsky, RA’s Watershed Supervisor at 703-435-6560 or Nicki@reston.org or visit the stream restoration project website at http://reston.wetlandstudies.com/ or http://www.reston.org/.