Janesville water rates will promote conservation
If you go
What: Public Service Commission public hearing on Janesville’s proposed water rate increase
Where: Janesville City Hall, 18 N. Jackson St.
When: 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6
To learn more: Call the city at (608) 755-3023
MADISON An agreement between the Janesville Water Utility and an environmental group would fundamentally change how residents are charged for the water they use.
Janesville would become just the fifth city in the state where residential customers would pay more per unit of water as their water usage increases, a reverse of the current billing system. Water Utility Director Dan Lynch said the rates jointly stipulated to by the utility and Clean Wisconsin recognize the increasing importance of water conservation.
“In the past, the city used a declining rate structure in which the more water you used the less per unit you paid for it … But this will be different,” Lynch said.
In the three-tier rate structure filed with Wisconsin Public Service Commission this week, residents would pay 95 cents per 100 cubic feet for the first 1,500 cubic feet of water per quarter, $1.26 per 100 cubic feet for the next 2,500 cubic feet of water and $1.65 per 100 cubic feet for usage over 4,000 cubic feet.
The average Janesville home uses about 2,500 cubic feet of water per quarter, Lynch said.
Neither the PSC nor the utility is ready to implement inclining rates for non-residential customers, Lynch said, because it probably would result in residential customers subsidizing the cost to serve industrial and commercial water users.
PSC spokesperson Teresa Smith-Weidemann, said the agency has approved similar inclining rate structures for utilities in Fitchburg, Allouez, Weston and Waukesha.
Although the Janesville utility sought a 14.75 percentage overall increase in revenue in the rate application it filed in May, there won’t be a significant cost impact on the majority of residential customers if the PSC approves the stipulated rates, Lynch said.
“For those who use an average amount of water … they won’t see (a 14 percent increase), but those that use lots of water sprinkling their lawn will see an impact of 25 percent possibly,” he said.
Lynch previously told the Gazette that quarterly residential water bills average $40.
The PSC has set an Oct. 6 public hearing on Janesville’s rate request, Lynch said. If the rate case proceeds as planned, the new rates could become effective in the first quarter of 2010.
The utility filed for a rate increase after GM’s departure. GM had been utility’s biggest customer and contributed about 6 percent of the utility’s annual revenue.
At the same time, Clean Wisconsin intervened in water rate cases in the state’s 10 largest utilities in an attempt to promote water conservation, said Melissa Malott, the group’s water program director.
Clean Wisconsin intervened in Waukesha’s rate case because it was concerned about the nearby aquifer being rapidly drawn down. It didn’t share the same concern in Janesville but wanted to send the message statewide that water rates should provide an incentive to conserve water, Malott said.
“Water over usage not only wastes water but also the energy it takes to pump the water. A utility can save on both with conservation,” she said.
Typically, outside groups don’t intervene in local water rate cases, Lynch said. He described Clean Wisconsin’s conservation goals as “admirable,” and found the group easy to work with.
In addition to stipulating to the inclining rates, the utility also will establish a water conservation program with a $75,000 annual budget. The utility will have six months after the PSC sets new water rates to complete a comprehensive water conservation plan, and implement it within a year.
Details of the plan haven’t been worked out but it would include a toilet rebate plan, public education on conservation measures and audits of industrial, commercial and public authority customers.