Fairness of prices charged by the Modesto Irrigation District for its two core services – water and power – will be examined at public workshops starting Tuesday morning.
Long-standing practice has favored farmers, who have been paying about $11 million a year less for water than it costs MID to deliver, while electricity customers are overcharged about $44 million. The inequity has colored policy discussions for at least two decades without much movement by the board, which continues to be controlled by farmers.
The discussion prompted the board in December to postpone considering an electricity rate hike until at least February or March, and also figured in a split vote earlier this month to begin a process for raising water prices.
Tuesday’s workshop is scheduled at the end of a regular board meeting. The agenda suggests a desire for board members to craft a long-term approach to raising irrigation rates, and refers to “cost of service,” or the gap between what customers pay and MID’s true cost for providing the service.
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For example, MID expects to spend $18.8 million this year delivering water to farmers, but would collect only $3.2 million if the board approves a 40 percent rate hike in a few weeks. Achieving true cost of service would mean charging farmers $160 per acre-foot rather than $13, the district has said. An acre-foot is the amount of water it would take to cover an acre 1 foot deep, or about 325,900 gallons.
Also on Tuesday’s agenda is a vote to begin a pilot program allowing some customers to pay for electricity before they use it, rather than receiving bills after.
Power Up will target people who struggle to pay bills, stiffing MID about $2 million each year. Those customers would pay about the same under the new structure, except 15 percent would be skimmed to repay past debts, the district says.
Tuesday’s MID board meeting begins at 9 a.m. in the chamber at 1231 11th St., Modesto. Another cost-of-service workshop is scheduled for Feb. 10 at the same time and place.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.