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PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION TAKES MOUNTAIN FUEL TO TASK BUT AVOIDS ANY SANCTIONS

SHARE PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION TAKES MOUNTAIN FUEL TO TASK BUT AVOIDS ANY SANCTIONS

Mountain Fuel Supply Co. avoided monetary sanctions following a Utah Public Service Commission hearing Wednesday, but chairman Ted Stewart gave the company a verbal tongue-lashing for what he called the company's lack of cooperation in providing information to be used in an upcoming rate case.

The Utah Division of Public Utilities asked the commission to impose monetary sanctions against the company, including a $39,500 reimbursement to cover additional expenses the division expects to incur on a consulting contract caused by delays in receiving responses to nearly 1,000 data requests made since April 19.Division attorney Lori Noda said the delays have used up the time allocated under a $79,000 consulting contract with Theodore Barry & Associates. She said it is estimated that another $39,500 will be needed to allow the company time to provide the division with a complete report.

Mountain Fuel attorney Gary Sackett argued that the division failed to show any direct testimony that the delays themselves were responsible for added costs and that the company should therefore not be forced to pay any of the division's costs in completing the report.

The commissioners agreed that evidence provided by the division did not support its contention that the delays were directly responsible for additional costs.

"But let me state that I believe the company should be chastised because it is much more adversarial than any other company we have had to work with," said Stewart. "I think much more could be accomplished with an attitude of cooperation."

Stewart said the company was not entirely at fault and that the division could have sought commission support to compel Mountain Fuel to be responsive much earlier.

Stewart said a two-week time limit for the company to respond to each data request will be strictly enforced leading up to the September hearings on the company's request for a $9.7 million rate increase.

The division provided statements showing that the company had taken as long as 68 days to respond to some data requests, despite the company's agreement during an April scheduling conference to provide responses within two weeks. Noda said the division was also frustrated because some responses proved misleading or incomplete.

Sackett said the company felt it had responded satisfactorily to each data request and was surprised at the intensity of Wednesday's hearing.

A key issue was a refusal by Mountain Fuel's parent company, Questar, to allow the division consultant access to a computer model used in making short- and long-term gas purchase decisions.