Utility Rate Increases Approved

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader | Burbank Water and Power is poised to rise electric rates by 6% and water rates by 9% starting July 1. Offi cials said the utility has a severe need of funds as its costs are increasing and sustainability guidelines approach.

First published in the May 21 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The Burbank City Council approved higher utility rates this week, citing the need to meet rising costs and upgrade infrastructure.

The council’s vote on Tuesday prefaces its meeting next week, when council members will likely pass the citywide budget and fee schedule for fiscal year 2022-23, which would approve the rate increases to begin July 1.

This week’s decision incorporated the higher water, electric, sewer and refuse rates into the fee schedule.

Burbank Water and Power officials proposed a 6% electric rate increase, which they said would result in an average monthly bill uptick of $3.56 for apartments and condominiums, or a $5.40 increase during summer months. They estimated that, for single-family homes, bills will rise by about $7.91 a month — $12.39 during summer months.

The proposed 9% water rate increase will result in a hike in monthly bills for single-family homes of between $4.17 and $7.60, depending on usage, officials estimated. They did not provide an estimate for apartments and condominiums.

The council also approved a 2% rate increase for sewage services, representing a monthly rise of 51 cents for single-family residential customers, and a 4% increase for refuse, representing a monthly rise of $1.34 for a 64-gallon container.

“BWP is not taking the rate increases lightly, and we know they place a burden on customers,” Myles Collins, energy services and utility rates manager, told the council. He added that the utility is working on a new financial assistance program for residents.

The utility has, with the approval of the City Council, deferred or mitigated rate increases in several previous years, though electric rates rose by 2.5% and water rates rose by 6% this fiscal year.

General Manager Dawn Roth Lindell noted in a statement that the deferrals forced BWP to pull from its financial reserves, which are intended to keep operations afloat in the event of a natural disaster and need to be replenished.

BWP officials argued that the utility needs the rate increases to afford the rising costs of water and electricity, repair and upgrade infrastructure, and meet the city’s sustainability goals.

The City Council recently passed an update to its Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan that would require a $2-billion investment through 2045 and aims to achieve carbon neutrality by the same year.

If BWP doesn’t sufficiently increase its percentage of renewable energy by 2030, officials also warned, it could face an estimated $147 million in possible fines from the state.

Natural gas prices have also increased by about 50% since 2020, Lindell said, and the Metropolitan Water District — which supplies water to Burbank and other Southern California cities — is increasing prices by 5% this year and next year. The utility also plans to replace aging water pipes and a reservoir that leaks when filled more than halfway.

“We are being hit by inflation just like everyone else is, and at a larger rate,” Lindell said.

Collins noted that even with the increases, BWP’s rates will remain below those of Glendale, Pasadena and Los Angeles.

About a dozen people emailed the City Council to express concerns about the proposed increases, city staff members said, though only one called into Tuesday’s meeting.

Kennia Escobar argued that it isn’t the right time to increase residents’ costs, pointing to the rising prices of gas and necessary goods.

“A lot of families are struggling,” she said. Though all four members of the council who were present Tuesday — Councilman Nick Schultz was absent — voted for the rate increases, they acknowledged that they were tightening residents’ wallets.

Utility officials have indicated they plan to request 6% electric-rate hikes and water-rate jumps of between 6% and 9% for the next few fiscal years.

Lindell also told council members that BWP will reinstitute shutoffs “in the not-too-distant future” for indebted customers who don’t enter into payment arrangements.

However, utility representatives added that BWP is offering a number of financial-assistance programs, including one that gives up to $100 in bill credits to income-eligible residents and another that provides reduced electric rates.

BWP will also propose a new income-based aid program to the council on June 21.

Additional information about financial assistance is available at burbankwaterandpower.com/covid-19/covid-19-resources.

Despite members’ concerns, the City Council agreed that the BWP needs the additional funds to continue to provide service to residents, and to meet its sustainability goals.

“The last thing I would want is to have a rolling blackout because the infrastructure just wasn’t capable of keeping up with our ever-changing city,” Councilman Bob Frutos said. “I don’t think we have a choice. We didn’t raise it during COVID. … I agree that it wasn’t the time — but then again, it’s never the right time.”