Hearings to determine whether Utah Power must reduce yearly electrical rates by as much as $60 million are under way again after a yearlong freeze imposed by the state Legislature.

The Utah Public Service Commission this week adopted a schedule aimed at completing the hearings by early November. The PSC has indicated it hopes to issue an order prior to the start of the Legislature's 1999 session.The case began 14 months ago when the state Public Utilities Division and the Committee of Consumer Services claimed Utah Power, a subsidiary of PacifiCorp, was earning more than $70 million in excess profits. They asked the PSC to hold hearings aimed at reducing the utility's rates.

But the 1997 Legislature also was beginning to look into the possibility of deregulating the state's electrical utilities. Utah Power convinced the lawmakers to freeze rates until after the next year's session in exchange for the utility agreeing to immediately lower rates by $12.4 million annually.

Now that rate hearing freeze is running out.

On Tuesday, the three-member commission told Utah Power to file its latest financial statement - its semiannual report as of December 1997 - by April 30. That also is the deadline for any groups wishing to testify to file notice.

The PSC then will begin hearings May 19 to select a test year, either 1996 or 1997, for determining Utah Power's revenue and cost structures.

And the commission will spend this summer and early next fall collecting information from Utah Power, utility regulators, and consumer and customer groups.