SRP hike would be costly for schools - East Valley Tribune: News

SRP hike would be costly for schools

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Posted: Tuesday, August 11, 2009 3:16 pm | Updated: 10:39 am, Tue Aug 6, 2013.

SRP officials are proposing an overall 8.8 percent rate increase to take effect in November.

East Valley school districts are joining the voices against a proposed rate hike by SRP.

SRP officials are proposing an overall 8.8 percent rate increase to take effect in November.

The increase would be the utility's largest since 1981. It still needs approval by the board of directors, which could come in October.

The percentage increase varies depending on the type of customer. Residential consumers face an increase of about 10 percent and businesses face an increase of 6 percent to 8 percent.

For the Mesa Unified School District - the largest district in the state - the increase alone would cost the district $1,015,000, said chief financial officer George Zeigler.

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Zeigler said that SRP may also eliminate a "Surepay" discount the district receives, a savings of about $90,000 a year.

"Bottom line, this will result in about $1.1 million in increased electricity costs for the district, which is equivalent to about 21 teacher contracts," Zeigler said. "Mesa has aggressively reduced electric consumption for many years now by installing energy efficient lighting, cooling and electronic monitoring devices and by implementing energy conservation programs in our schools, but it seems like SRP continues to increase their rates, as we work hard to reduce consumption."

An SRP official said the company is trying to help school districts a number of ways - from offering financial assistance to purchase energy efficient lighting and other capital to cash incentives to take part in energy savings programs.

"We're doing a fair amount," said Debbie Kimberly, manager of energy efficiency and policy analysis. "Sadly we don't have unlimited funds. We have to put in limits so there's enough to go around for all customers."

Kimberly said federal stimulus dollars might also be available for school districts to use for updating HVAC units and making other purchases to improve energy efficiency. School districts are now in the process of applying for some of those federal dollars being funneled through the state.

School districts say the rate increase could not come at a worse time. State lawmakers eliminated excess utility funds beginning July 1, and budgets for school districts' payrolls and benefits have been chopped. More cuts may be pending as state lawmakers continue to finalize a budget for the fiscal year, which began July 1.

Mesa is not alone. If the increase passes, the Chandler Unified School District would pay an additional $461,000. The Apache Junction Unified School District - which spent $969,643 with SRP last school year - would pay an additional $74,662.

SRP's Web site says the increase is needed to upgrade power plants, develop renewable-energy projects, and add transmission lines, which officials say will be needed when the housing construction market picks back up.

The Gilbert Unified School District would have to pay an additional $390,000, the equivalent of eight full-time teaching contracts.

"The figures are devastating," Dianne Bowers, Gilbert Unified's spokeswoman, said.

The district's SRP bill last fiscal year was $4,872,129.97, even with the district using 13.33 percent fewer kilowatt hours overall because of conservation efforts, Bowers said. Some schools cut power use by 30 percent.

"We know that conservation translates directly to teacher salaries and being able to hire teachers for the classroom as well as being a good thing for the environment," she said.

The district is making additional efforts to use less energy this year.

"That savings we expected to translate into a benefit for our budget," she said. "What this increase does is not only eliminate the savings but adds an additional expense at a time we don't have the budget."

An all-day meeting for SRP's commercial customers is planned for 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Aug. 18 at the SRP Project Administration Building, 1521 N. Project Drive, near Mill Avenue and Center Parkway in Tempe.

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