By G.H. Scott
Published in Las Cruces Sun-News 05.01.22
By now you have heard the news that the City Council approved Las Cruces Utilities’ (LCU) request to update natural gas rates in order to meet operational needs of the system. What you may not know is the long journey LCU undertook in a transparent process that recognized customer input in the final outcome.
Rate and Economic Analysis Manager Domonique Rodriguez directed the gas rate review and public outreach for LCU, “we started the gas rate review process at the end of 2020, by evaluating the financials to determine the gas utility’s needs, working with the outside consultant while they prepared their report and recommendations, then worked with the Utility Customer Advisory Group (UCAG) to conduct public hearings, then to the LCU Board of Commissioners (LCU Board) for their recommendations, and ending with City Council to get final approval for the changes.” Domonique and the LCU team navigated the entire process during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which had a distinct impact on the length of the review and getting ultimate approval. “We did two public outreach sessions on Zoom, but also during that time all the public documents were available on the City of Las Cruces website allowing customers to send in email comments and when everything opened up, we had two in-person meetings,” said Rodriguez.
Considering LCU was making a rate increase request, the customers who attended either the virtual or in-person meetings appreciated the review process, “one customer just moved here from El Paso, she had questions and said our process was great because she got a chance to talk with LCU and she really liked that opportunity,” said Rodriguez.
The last time the city-owned utility raised natural gas rates was in 2011. The additional revenue enables LCU to maintain and operate the natural gas system safely, cover employee salaries and benefits, and replace older vehicles and equipment. “At the end of the day it was a good outcome for LCU, working with natural gas is risky, our main concern is making sure we have the appropriate personnel trained and certified with proper equipment and funding to rehabilitate and maintain the system for the health and safety for all our customers,” continued Rodriguez.
LCU listened to customer input, the Utilities Board, and City Council members by addressing three major concerns, which included a three-year phase-in for the rate increase, eliminate funding of new debt service for gas line extensions, and holding off on applying the new rates until the emergency commodity recovery surcharge is completed. “Once we end the commodity emergency recovery surcharge, which will be at the end of summer, the new rate will start sometime in the early fall,” said Rodriguez. LCU residential customers will see a slight increase on their monthly bills when the new natural gas rates go into effect.
The City Council is formalizing a request to the LCU Board to begin the application of 15-cent-per-dekathem decarbonization rider on all customers in the first year of rate changes rather than phasing it in over three years. The rider on gas usage will be used to fund an energy transition plan and evaluate and implement energy efficiency upgrades in LCU’s service area.
LCU – Your Utility Connection. Customer Central can be reached at 575-541-2111 from 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. LCU provides clean, safe, and reliable services to Las Cruces residents and businesses. Learn more at: las-cruces.org/180/Utilities
For emergencies, call Dispatch at 526-0500.
PHOTO 1: LCU gas crew laying pipe-Courtesy LCU