Help Wanted

PUC allows three interveners in water rate increase case.

Hawaii’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) decided earlier this month that the stack of issues surrounding possible water rate increases on Molokai was too much for them to sort through. The County of Maui, West Molokai Association and Stand For Water were all named as interveners in the case.

Interveners are private parties appointed by the PUC to help provide outside research and information. They are typically used in complicated cases with lots of material to sort through to make sure a thorough investigation is completed before the PUC makes a decision. Due to the high volume of information and the even higher level of concern, the PUC granted all the groups intervener status.

Hearing the History
Two of Molokai’s main water providers, Molokai Public Utilities (MPU) and Wai`ola O Molokai (Wai`ola), applied for general rate increases on July 29, 2009. The proposed increases would have some ratepayers paying as much as five times as they were in the summer of 2008. Both companies were granted temporary increases in 2008 after their parent company, Molokai Properties Limited (MPL) also known as Molokai Ranch, threatened to discontinue water services to their 1200 customers. West Molokai Association (WMA) applied as an intervener in that decision, but their application was denied.

“I think we just presented a more persuasive case this time around,” Attorney Bill Milks said. Milks was hired by WMA this time around to make sure their application for intervenership would be taken seriously.

The PUC held a hearing at the Mitchell Pauole Center in early September to get public feedback on the proposed increases.

“We’re being held hostage,” Molokai resident Eugene Santiago said prior to the September meeting. “Our concern now is to try to get the PUC to help us look at this whole situation with the Ranch and provide just cause [for the increases].”
 
More than one hundred residents showed up at the hearing to voice their opposition to the changes. The public testimony brought forth an overwhelming amount of information about the utilities, the service they provide and the financial standing of their parent company, MPL.

Into Their Own Hands
It was during that meeting that all three groups stated their intention to file for intervener status. Tim Brunnert, who founded Stand For Water in August in response to the newly proposed rates, said he was surprised that all the groups’ applications were approved.

“It’s very uncommon for [PUC] to even let anyone intervene; to get all three of us is quite a feat. It’s really a fortunate thing for us and for the island,” Brunnert said at the hearing. 

PUC Attorney Lisa Kim said all interveners were decided on a case-by-case basis. Milks, who is said that multiple interveners is not unheard of, but usually happens in a broader, statewide case.

Making the Decision
The PUC originally set a deadline to make a decision on the rate increases by the end of 2009. However, because interveners were approved, that timeframe has been pushed back. Kim said the PUC will make “every effort” to make a decision within nine months of the application filed on July 29. However, a hearing to discuss the findings of the interveners may not occur until June 2010. At that point, the PUC will make a decision on whether or not to accept the rate changes.

Milks said that the attorneys for all involved parties will now try to hash out a schedule of events that will occur before the hearing.

“We’ll be trying to come to an agreement on what the issues are,” Milks said. “Not necessarily how to resolve them, but what issues the Commission needs to make a decision about.”

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