by Karen E. Culp
City Utilities has been working on updating its 10-year-old service-extension policy for more than a year now, said John Twitty, CU deputy general manager.
The community-owned utility has retained GDS Associates, a consulting firm, to look at its extension policy and determine what changes need to be made, Twitty said. GDS has already researched the industry's overall extension practices, and is compiling a list of the best policies in the industry. The consulting company will ultimately compile what it has gathered with input CU has gathered from customers into a written document the Board of Public Utilities will vote on in the spring.
Twitty said it is the cost elements of the extension policy that most need to be reviewed.
"Most of the people we're dealing with understand that our costs to extend service have changed in the past 10 years. What we're looking at now is how to adjust to accommodate those changes," Twitty said.
The policy as it is now written states that overhead and underground electric line extensions for single-phase and three-phase power requirements will be extended at no charge; however, developer installed electric conduit for street crossings has a schedule of charges, depending on the size of the conduit and the number of conduits.
"In the new policy, we'll have to look at that and determine if those costs are appropriate. Especially now, with all the talk in the community about undergrounding utilities, we need to examine those practices," Twitty said.
The utility began looking at its service extension policy when it became apparent that restructuring of the electric industry was imminent, Twitty said. CU is continuing to look for ways to control costs, and the extension policy may be one area where some cost-controls can be achieved, but it also may be an area where the utility can enhance its customer service.
"What we continue to face is that there are three cooperatives and Empire District Electric outside the corporate city limits of Springfield that can reach out to our customers should restructuring occur. It could become tougher for us to get that business if we don't have a plan in place for getting our services where they need to be. They have to see an advantage to taking our service, and the biggest advantage is going to be if we can get the services to them at a lower cost," Twitty said.
CU has had meetings with various people who are interested in its extension policy. Last summer, the utility had meetings with developers and the consulting company, GDS, to examine its policy. Mark Harrell, president of Plaza Realty, attended one of those meetings. Harrell said the utility has historically done a good job of listening to the community.
"I hope they reach an agreement that won't cost real estate developers more to extend utilities, but I also understand they're looking at the potential of deregulation of the utility industry, and that will have some implications on the review process," Harrell said.
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