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LAFCo wants decision by end of year

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POSTED June 13, 2014 1:32 a.m.

STOCKTON – The fate of a plan to lower electrical rates by 15 percent in Manteca, Ripon, and Escalon may be known by year’s end.

That’s because the San Joaquin Local Agency Formation Commission voted unanimously on Thursday to deny the recommendation of the organization’s executive officer and fast track what could theoretically give the South San Joaquin Irrigation District a green light to move forward with plans to provide retail electric service to South County residents, farms, schools, and businesses by the start of 2015.

The process before LAFCo has now dragged on for 58 months.

As part of the decision by the LAFCo board, executive officer James Glaser will have to provide his comments so that the municipal service review documents submitted by SSJID – the item that was the cause of contention – can continue to move forward beyond the public comment section. 

A public meeting will also be held in July to help move the process forward. 

“The most important thing is that the LAFCo commissioners expressed a desire to bring this matter to a public hearing this year,” said Steve Harem – a lawyer working with SSJID on its retail power application process. “The decision that they made today facilitates accomplishing that goal.”

According to the agenda, the matter that was before the commission on Thursday was only supposed to be about whether SSJID had to use a certain consultant during the MSR process. But after Glaser’s comments – which included a step-by-step rundown of the entire history of SSJID’s relationship with LAFCo and included editorial comments by the Manteca Bulletin about the district’s proposal to takeover PG&E’s existing power distribution network and the numbers that facilitate such a transaction – led to meandering presentations and what appeared to be attempts at defending certain allegations. 

The staff report had painted the agendized at item as one that was “focused” but turned out to be anything but. 

Instead of focusing on whether SSJID had to use PA Consulting – a firm that the SSJID claimed had close ties to PG&E, receiving more than $1.6 million through contracts within the last decade – Glaser talked about how the proposed 15 percent rate reduction that has become the cornerstone of SSJID’s power pitch is not economically feasible and how it would require a cash supplement in order to pull off. 

He even went so far as to talk about how revenues from the district’s Tri-Dam Project – a series of four power-generating facilities along the Stanislaus River – have been down in recent years and would play into concerns about how SSJID would be able to meet its obligation to ratepayers that are expecting a reduction rather than a raise in rates. 

Mintier Harnish – a Sacramento-based consulting firm – was okayed by the commission as the facilitators for the conclusion of the MSR process. Glaser, in his report, had listed the group as one of three that were proposed by SSJID that weren’t suitable because they cannot meet the needs of LAFCo.

The decision means that the district will not have to start back over at square one to complete the extensive – and expensive – process that has already eclipsed seven figures. 

And money was a whole different argument. 

According to PG&E spokesman Dylan George, the disparity between the numbers proposed by various consultants was far too vast for the body to single any one out as an authoritative figure in the argument. One consultant, George said, concluded that SSJID would end up with a whopping $450 million surplus once everything was all said and done while another said it would actually be a $400 million deficit.

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