Liberty Utilities-Empire District has submitted a request to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for an increase for rates it charges its Oklahoma customers.

The Joplin utility company, whose parents are Canadian-based Algonquin Power and Utilities Inc., is seeking an increase of approximately $2.3 million over a three-year period.

OIEC, an unincorporated association of energy customers in Oklahoma, filed testimony Friday with the OCC in response to Empire’s request.

An OIEC release said it filed the expert testimony of two witnesses who recommended numerous adjustments to Empire’s requested revenue requirement increase. OIEC’s recommendations consist of a $422,293 reduction based on OIEC’s recommendation of a reasonable cost of capital, including a 9% return on equity; a $386,285 reduction to Empire’s proposed depreciation rates; $561,804 worth of accounting and other adjustments which reduce Empire’s requested expenses to reasonable levels and reductions resulting from tax reform changes in the amount of $885,746.

“We are saying its excessive, said Tom Schroedter, General Counsel of OIEC, said by phone Friday. “We’re filing testimony from our experts that basically says that all but $60,000 of that rate hike is non-justified. We’re basically saying that that the commission should reject the rate hike.

“It will have all kind of impact on schools, communities, municipalities, industries, gaming — the whole 9 yards. Everyone is going to be adversely impacted by this.”

Fairland Schools Superintendent Mark Alexander is really concerned about the potential increase and how it would stress the district’s budget.

“It’s going to be a considerable increase for us,” he said. “It will be a considerable burden on all the school districts (in Empire’s service area).

Empire currently serves 4,647 customers in Fairland, Commerce, Narcissa, North Miami, Quapaw, Wyandotte and portions of Miami in Ottawa County and Bluejacket and Welch in Craig County.

“Empire continues to ask the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for huge rate increases at every opportunity,” John Berrey, Chairman of the Quapaw Nation, said in the OIEC release. “Empire Electric’s request for a $2.3 million increase is made so they can continue an excessive rate of return for their investors at the unfair expense of the Oklahoma consumer.

“On behalf of the Quapaw Nation and all other customers of Empire Electric, I ask that the Commission review and adopt OIEC’s recommendations to protect the residents of Northeastern Oklahoma against this excessive grab for unfair profits.”

Empire’s reasoning for the rate increase is since 2011, it has made considerable capital improvements in its service territory of more than $883 million.

That total includes distribution automation and a transmission line rebuild in Welch, breaker installation, substation transformer size increase and the installation of breaker and a circuit conductor at Fairland and the installation of a throw-over switching scheme at Commerce.

If approved, the new rates are expected into effect this fall.

The rate hike would approximately be 20% for Empire’s larger commercial and industrial customers.

According to Jillian Curtis, Empire, associate communications media coordinator, the change (based on use of approximately 1,000 kilowatt hours would be an approximate increase of $7.44 in 2019, $8.10 in 2020 and $5.69 in 2012.

“Another part of this request is we have a low income residential rider,” she said. “Customers that would qualify for that would actually see a decrease each year on their bill. In 2019, if customers were to qualify, for that, they would see an approximate decrease of $2.56, in 2020, an approximate decrease of $1.90 and in 2020, they would see an approximate decrease of $4.31.

Empire District first went to the OCC requesting a $3.2 million in 2011 and its current rates were approved in January 2012.

In January 2016, Empire District requested another $3.2 million increase, but the OCC denied that in September 2016 and approved an Environmental Compliance Rider.

The current rate increase was filed in March.