Rocky Mountain Power is backtracking on its retraction last week of some of the service cutback plans that it had announced after the utility didn't get the rate hike it wanted from the Utah Public Service Commission.

In a response this week to questions submitted by petitioners in the utility's rate case, which has been appealed, Rocky Mountain Power said it would consider delaying call-center response to service problems from Utah customers only, and not to customers in other states, and the utility would delay e-mail responses to Utah customers, as well.

The state's largest electric utility said it could implement significant changes in its customer service for its Utah ratepayers, in an effort to cut costs. Rocky Mountain Power said that among other options, the utility may reduce call-center costs by eliminating outage callbacks for Utah customers. The utility also may relax the standard of responding to customer e-mails within 24 hours and charge Utah customers for collection-agency fees when their overdue accounts are turned over to an agency.

The company said it would continue to provide overtime pay for employees to restore power during outages. But the company said it would discontinue its sponsorship of state, regional and local economic-development conferences, projects and studies.

The company's statements came in a response Monday to a data request made by the Utah Committee of Consumer Services. The utility's response was provided to all parties involved in the review of the company's rate case.

Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Jeff Hymas said in an e-mail Wednesday to the Deseret News that the utility "is considering other changes to reduce expenses and allow the company to bring the cost of providing service in line with the overall revenue recovery provided by the commission's August order."

The company also stated that it intends to temporarily reduce the use of contractors for facility inspections and for its pole-test program. The utility said curtailing its use of contractors is "synonymous" with the elimination of discretionary maintenance that the company had announced on Sept. 2. The company last week had retracted that plan, but in its response this week to the data request, the utility said it was still considering the service reduction.

On Sept. 2, the company said it would implement a hiring freeze directed at customer-service positions in Utah. The company also said that it would limit overtime for restoring power to "only when employee or public safety is threatened," eliminate discretionary maintenance, discontinue funding of research associated with renewable and clean-coal technology and discontinue support for economic development activities.

The company cited the commission's rate-hike decision as the reason for the cutbacks. The utility said the increase was not enough to meet its needs to serve its growing customer base.

Last week, after meetings with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and state legislative leaders, the company had said that it would rescind its plans to reduce customer service. Rocky Mountain Power President Richard Walje said he was opening discussions with state officials and others to make a case for billions of dollars in electric-system improvements that are needed in Utah.

The company filed a formal appeal with the commission on Sept. 2 to reconsider the reduced rate hike that had been granted. The commission granted the appeal and is reviewing the rate-hike request.

The company's legal appeal challenged the commission's decision on Aug. 11 to approve a $33.4 million rate hike, when the utility had requested more than twice that much. The company received a 2.7 percent rate increase but had asked for a 5.6 percent hike. The commission on Aug. 21 said it had made a calculation mistake in its Aug. 11 order and said the amount of the rate hike was $36.2 million.


E-mail: jlee@desnews.com