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Consultant expected to be nominated as DWP ratepayer advocate

Los Angeles energy consultant Frederick H. Pickel is expected to be 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, Los Angeles 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.”

Pickel, 59, on Tuesday would not confirm his nomination, which is subject to confirmation by the City Council. He is president of the Los Angeles-based Wilshire Energy Consulting Group, which specializes in the power and gas industries, according to its website.

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 rates changes, and several members at the time said they would not vote for increases until the advocate is in place.

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-- Stephen Ceasar at Los Angeles City Hall

 
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L.A. Now is the Los Angeles Times’ breaking news section for Southern California. It is produced by more than 80 reporters and editors in The Times’ Metro section, reporting from the paper’s downtown Los Angeles headquarters as well as bureaus in Costa Mesa, Long Beach, San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Riverside, Ventura and West Los Angeles.
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