EV school districts looking for ways to offset SRP rate hike - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

EV school districts looking for ways to offset SRP rate hike

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Posted: Friday, August 10, 2012 9:12 am | Updated: 10:28 am, Fri Aug 17, 2012.

Higley Unified School District’s governing board is opposing a planned 4.8 percent increase in electric rates by SRP, and is hoping other school districts take similar action.

SRP announced plans this summer to propose the utility increase to its public board. It would impact companies — including public entities like schools — and residential bills.

The Higley governing board approved a letter to SRP’s leadership during a meeting Tuesday night.

Superintendent Denise Birdwell told the board that more than 30 school districts could be impacted by the electric company’s plans.

Part of the issue, Birdwell told the board, is the fact that the district already planned its budget for the year. Classes began Monday in Higley, though the board approved its 2012-2013 budget last month, and submitted it to the state Department of Education as required by Arizona law.

“Once the budgets are approved by elected school district governing boards in public meetings and the procurement process is underway, increases in utility bills, such as that proposed by SRP, create economic hardships for school districts and negatively impact the students we serve,” the letter states.

A $60,000 increase in utility costs could mean “one seasoned teacher out,” Birdwell said.

Other East Valley school districts also use SRP for electricity.

The increase could cost Gilbert Unified School District about four times Higley’s predicted increase, or $220,000, said Clyde Dangerfield, assistant superintendent for business services.

Dangerfield said Gilbert plans to weigh in on the proposed increase, but that he understands everything costs more.

Gilbert schools decreased utility use about 10 percent over the last five years. Continued efforts are under way, and could help with any utility increase, Dangerfield said.

Mesa Unified School District estimates its increase would be about $460,000.

“Our strategy is we will be trying to offset our utility use,” assistant superintendent Bobette Sylvester said.

The district, like many others, has already taken steps to do that through energy management systems, improved lighting and use sensors, which turn lights on and off depending on when someone is in a room.

Mesa’s bond proposal includes updating HVAC systems, which could also decrease energy use, she said.

Rising costs and infrastructure are leading the need for the utility rate increase, said Dean Duncan, SRP’s corporate treasurer and senior director of financial services.

“We’re pretty sensitive to increases at all. We know what it’s like out there. We consider price adjustments pretty carefully,” Duncan said.

If the board approves the adjustment, it would take effect in November.

Duncan said it’s been about two and a half years since the last price increase was approved. That increase — 4.9 percent — took effect in fall 2010.

“You can argue it moves along the track with inflation,” he said of the proposal.

Three factors are driving the increase this time, Duncan said: maintenance of power plants, costs to operate and put renewal energy into place, and infrastructure investments. During the recession, Duncan added, SRP has tried to put off as many costs as possible, but now those are hitting the financial books.

“We’re adding geothermal and solar energies. Those resources are coming into the mix and those are in part driving up our costs,” he said.

Several school districts, including Higley and Chandler, do have solar energy in use.

There have been two open houses with the public so far, Duncan said. About 14 households attended those meetings. A third open house is scheduled Thursday night in Scottsdale.

The public comment meeting will be held Tuesday in Tempe. The formal proposal goes before the SRP board on Sept. 10 with the potential vote on Sept. 27.

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