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Energy consultant nominated as DWP ratepayer advocate

L.A.'s mayor is urging Frederick H. Pickel, 59, to 'move quickly' on proposed rate increases.

January 18, 2012|By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles energy consultant Frederick H. Pickel was nominated Tuesday as the first ratepayer advocate to oversee proposed customer rate hikes at the city's Department of Water and Power.

In a letter obtained by The Times, sent hours before a search panel was scheduled to announce its choice for the voter-created position, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa informed Pickel that city officials must "move quickly" on proposed increases.

"Already the credit agencies have spoken about the department's need for increased revenue," Villaraigosa said in his letter. "They have noticed the delay in setting new rates and have acted accordingly to lower the DWP's credit ratings. Further delays will only further increase the costs to the department, to the city and ultimately our residents and customers."

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the City Council.

Pickel, 59, is the president of L.A.-based Wilshire Energy Consulting Group, which specializes in the power and gas industries, according to its website.

"I look forward to providing independent public analysis of the Department of Water and Power's water and electricity rates on behalf of the public," Pickel said in a statement. "I would be honored to serve in this capacity."

In March, voters passed a charter amendment to establish an Office of Public Accountability and a ratepayer advocate at the Department of Water and Power, a position that would independently scrutinize proposed rate increases at the agency.

Passage of the measure followed a battle between the City Council and the DWP in 2010, in which the utility threatened to withhold a $73.5-million transfer to the city's general fund if it did not approve electricity rate hikes.

In December, the agency's board approved a hike in water rates that would add about $5 a month on the average residential user's bill. The increase, the agency said, is needed to pay for improvements to meet federal water quality requirements and to protect the agency's credit rating.

But the council must ultimately approve any rate changes, and several members at the time said they would not vote for increases until the advocate is in place.

Pickel's selection is scheduled to be discussed Tuesday by the City Council's Energy and Environment Committee.

A spokeswoman for Councilwoman Jan Perry, who chairs the committee, said that the issue of the DWP rate hikes will also come to the committee, but only after the approval of the ratepayer advocate.

Sandra Itkoff, a member of the search panel and a vice president for strategy at BYD America, a Chinese electric car company, said Pickel excels in two areas essential for success in the new position:

"He has deep utility expertise as well as an understanding of economics, which to me was one of the most important things," she said.

stephen.ceasar@latimes.com

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