JOPLIN, Mo.- Empire Electric responded Friday afternoon to arguments and criticism made in the Empire Electric rate case update and call to action community forum involving customers and community stakeholders.

“We recognize this is a significant increase for Oklahoma customers. We are asking only to recover costs that have been prudently incurred to serve our customers and comply with EPA mandates. Empire’s customers in Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas are already paying for part or all of their jurisdictional share of these projects. Also, no parties to this rate case proceeding have alleged any costs should be disallowed based on imprudent decisions by the Company,” Empire Electric's Director of Corporate Communications Julie Maus said.

On the issue of Empire's reliability of services, Maus provided the following information in response to community criticism.

“Empire has made significant efforts to improve the reliability of service to its Oklahoma customers. This includes over $14 million in improvements to the transmission and distribution system to date. In 2010, Empire developed a 10-year plan to construct system improvements solely to improve the reliability of the system. We are still in the midst of implementation of this plan which is slated for completion in 2021,” Maus stated in an email to the Miami News Record provided on Friday afternoon.

The projects included in Empires plan, according to Maus, include:

· Distribution automation for Welch (Completed 2013) – This project created a backup distribution source to support the Welch load in the event that their primary radial source was no longer energized. This is an automated process that changes the configuration of the distribution system such that the Welch load will be served from the Fairland Substation. With this system, the Welch load is restored in less than 3 minutes after the initial power outage.

· Welch transmission line rebuild (Completed in 2016) – The transmission system that supplied the Welch substation was rebuilt. This includes 27 miles of Radial transmission line was rebuilt with all new components and conductor.

· Welch transmission voltage upgrade (Scheduled for 2018) – This project will be to convert the transmission system serving the Welch substation from the existing 34.5 kV to 69 kV. This will reduce the specialized equipment needed to maintain and operate the 34.5 kV system.

· Fairland installation of 2 - 69 kV breakers and increase substation transformer size (Completed in 2015) – This project removed the exposure of 15.5 miles of transmission line from the customers served by the Fairland West and the Fairland Southwest and the Fairland Shell substations. Prior to this system upgrade any incident that caused an outage on the transmission line also caused the customers served by any of these substations to experience an outage.

· Installation of 69 kV throw-over switching scheme at Commerce Tap (Scheduled in 2018) – This project is to install a throw over switch in the transmission line that serves Commerce so that automatic sectionalization can occur to restore service to Commerce in the event of a transmission line event.

· Fairland installation of additional 12 kV breaker and circuit conductor (Completed in 2016) – This project increased sectionalization of the distribution system and reduced the number of customers outages due to a single distribution event.

· Reducing Distribution Outage Exposure (Ongoing) – Installation of sectionalizing devices (reclosers and fuses) to reduce the number of customers that experience an outage for each fault.

“Oklahoma customers make up approximately four percent of Empire’s customer base,” Maus wrote in her email. “However, a significant proportion of the reliability program expenditures have been directed to the Oklahoma area. Although this program is not yet complete, we are making progress. Unfortunately, during these upgrades, the system has been further constrained for short periods of time.”

Maus also provided information that the last general rate increase for Empire’s Oklahoma customers was over 5 years ago (Jan. 2012). Since then, over $670 million in capital improvements have been made to the system to serve customers.

Empire announced in October of 2015 that new rates would be filed in Oklahoma at the conclusion of its Missouri rate proceeding in 2016, according to Maus, and a request for new rates to reflect these improvements was originally filed September 23, 2016.

“This request was based on the rates already reviewed and approved by the Missouri Public Service Commission (referred to as Reciprocity rate request, allowed in Oklahoma under certain conditions). The intent was to hold down rate case expenses, which are ultimately borne by the customer,” Maus wrote in the emailed response. “Parties to the case (other than Empire) were not in favor of using the Reciprocity method, and requested that Empire withdraw and file a full general rate case which includes a cost of service study and 180 day timeline for review.In the spirit of collaboration, Empire agreed to this request and filed a general rate case with the OCC on December 21, 2016, after completing a cost of service study for the Oklahoma jurisdiction.”

Melinda Stotts is the associate editor of the Miami News-Record. She can be emailed at mstotts@miaminewsrecord.com or followed on Twitter @MelindaStotts1.