Thursday, April 19, 2007

Waukesha Water Utility pushes "aggressive" (their word) conservation pricing plan. It is a lightweight, lackluster attempt.

The monthly meeting of the Waukesha Water Utility was held this afternoon.

News: Tortomasi is out. Bull is in. Rick Tortomasi was appointed as Common Council member, less than a year ago. It made little sense to put him on the Utility Commission a year ago, as he had just been elected, didn't know his way around. Nelson also put him on the Finance Committee, as a greenhorn. He was clearly in way over his head. No word on why he's out. So, a year of orientation is wasted.

Peggy Bull--appointed Alderman a year ago, ran for her seat unopposed last month--is the newest greenhorn alderman, who will need months to get up to speed. Probably for the best, though. Tortomasi contributed little. Bull is bright and in touch with the broad issues.

"Seldom-seen" Commissioner, Gerald Couri was absent AGAIN. Mayor also absent, so a quorum of three did business.

In the midst of a long list of routine approvals of contracts and consultants came the unveiling of the "ascending block" pricing of water to residential customers.

In the past in Waukesha, and universally throughout Wisconsin, water utilities have had "descending block" pricing schemes. Under pressure to demonstrate aggressive conservation measures as a condition of tapping Lake Michigan water, the Utility has turned the system on its head. Presently, customers pay $1.69 per thousand gallons of water--up to 75 thousand. Gallons used beyond 75K cost $1.46 per thousand gallons. The price keeps descending in blocks, thus the name. The more you use, the cheaper it gets. Not exactly a formula for conservation.

It is not actually a new idea; this blogger--long before the word "blog" was in the vocabulary--urged the Commission to go to an effective ascending block pricing scheme. What the Commision is backing is a weak attempt, weak to the point of being little more than symbolic.

Peggy Steeno, the Commission's Administrative Services Manager--an accountant with an extremely sharp pencil and a refreshing air of competence--is often the only one in the room willing to cut through the BS. After outlining the new pricing scheme:


First 30,000 Gal. --- $1.69 per thousand gallons
Next 10,000 Gal. --- $1.92 per thousand gallons
Over 40,000 Gal. --- $2.24 per thousand gallons

She announced the actual effect on customers. Words to the effect that "This will only apply to people for whom it doesn't matter". What's the problem? Hardly anyone among the utility customers gets into the second block. They have the brackets all wrong. Good concept, bad execution.

All that straining to present this scheme as revolutionary (My pop, God rest him, a lefty to his core, always warned me to be wary of suburbanites announcing that they are in the vanguard of this-or-that revolution) and they have produced a weak-kneed Potemkin Village of a plan. It has been crafted to have minimum effect on the water usage behavior of the customers and to keep revenues up. The current rate case (including this bogus ascending block element) before the Public Service Commission wants an increase of 17%.

And they already have projected another rate increase of 17% in January, 2009--19 months away.

2 comments:

James Rowen said...

You might be right about WRDA, Jim. All the reason to be continually vigilant, as youy are, so thanks.

anne cole said...

Thanks for sharing such nice information about water management.. keep writing..

Anne Cole
Business Utilities

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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.