Power on: IID rates among lowest in So Cal; reliability rates mixed bag

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Amid the massive and controversial changes inside the Imperial Irrigation District Energy Department, a lawsuit against California’s largest electric-power distributor and contentious races for board seats, the district must still deliver on its primary missions: keeping the lights on and the water flowing. For both its Water and Energy departments success in the public eye is tied to reliability and affordability.

Gary Redfern
Gary Redfern

Common perception in the IID electric service area that includes all of Imperial County and the Coachella Valley communities of Riverside County has been that IID’s electricity has been among the most affordable in Southern California.

Data released by IID shows the affordability perception to be largely accurate from 2010 to 2015. Of the dozen-plus Southern California power utilities listed in reports titled “Comparison of Electric Bill,” IID consistently had among the cheapest power rates and occasionally the cheapest. The reports cover rates for residential, small commercial and large commercial customers for various amounts of power used by the customers.

The data was provided in response to two California Public Records Act requests by The Desert Review. The IID responses included data sheets on power rates and reliability, and response letters signed by IID Assistant Counsel Vance M. Taylor.

The rate data reflects what electricity costs customers using designated amounts of it and does not include taxes and surcharges, IID officials said. It was compiled by IID.

There are listings for residential customers at 500, 1000 and 2000 kilowatt hours per month; small commercial customers at 2000 kwh; and large commercial at 54,000, 100,000, 540,000 and 1.2 million kwh. While IID does not have tiered rates within each group, rates do vary between those groups, IID officials explained.

IID had its highest ranking for large commercial customers using 54,000 kilowatt hours per month. In 2010 it was fourth cheapest of 15 utilities, third in 2011, and first every year from 2012-2015. The number of utilities in the report dropped from 15 to 14 beginning in 2014, no longer including Pacific Gas & Electric.

IID also reported consistent first-, second and third-cheapest rates for small commercial customers using 2000 kilowatt hours per month and second- and third-cheapest for residential customers using 1000 and 2000 kilowatt hours monthly. For residential customers at 500 kwh per month IID consistently ranked second- or third-cheapest. Its lowest performances in those levels were ranking sixth for residential customers 500 kwh in 2010 and fifth in 2015.

Overall, IID had its lowest rankings with large commercial customers at the levels of 540,000 and 1,200,000 kwh per month. The district had 11th– and 12th-place showings in 2010-11. It nudged to fifth and sixth in 2012 and then dropped to 7th from 2013-2015.

The lower amounts of kwh used monthly for residential customers reflect the electricity typically used in the cooler winter months, while the higher relate to summer usage, IID officials said. The middle range of 1000 kwh is a rough average of what a typical household uses a month throughout the year.

For reliability IID released graphs from data it stated was compiled by the Glendora-based Southern California Public Power Authority. According to its website, scppa.org, that group helps its member utilities, including IID, build electric-power generation and transmission projects, performs lobbying services and advises on ways to reduce costs.

IID only released data from 2014 that showed out of 11 utilities listed it ranked eighth, seventh and third in measures of reliability calculated from the number of customer outages per year and how long they lasted. Taylor wrote the district did not have information on how SCPPA compiled the reliability data.

SCPPA did not immediately respond to a telephone message requesting reliability information from other years.

Reliability has been spared widespread controversy, though the district did get slapped with a $12 million fine from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2014 due its role in a major 2011 blackout that originated in Arizona and cascaded through sizeable portions of the power grid in the Southwest. It affected 5 million people, including many in IID’s service area. IID was cited for failure to adequately plan for such events with neighboring utilities.

Much of the fine money was to be used for battery-energy storage to back up the IID power system. The district was also ordered to implement other measures to improve reliability. An Aug. 7, 2014, FERC press release on the fine states IID had by that time “made significant efforts to address those reliability concerns and affirms that it has completed most of the required mitigation measures.”

The battery backup, which IID was required to complete by the end of 2016, is scheduled for completion by October, said IID spokesperson Marion Champion. The district also made adjustments to its transmission system in Coachella Valley, including raising the level at which a power shut down would be triggered by system problems, she said.

IId 2016 rate comparison