Are you happy about the latest Cowlitz PUD rate increase – the one that was forecast to be in the 5 to 6 percent range that instead morphed into 18 percent?
Well, neither are we. We’ll be paying it, too.
Brian Skeahan, the PUD’s general manager, and Dave Andrew, the utility’s communications director, visited our offices this week, and they didn’t sound real thrilled about it, either. After boosting rates by 10 percent back in January, we’re fairly certain the last thing they wanted to do was triple their prediction for Rate Increase, Part II.
There’s no sugar-coating it. The two big rate hikes so close together make for one very bad year at PUD headquarters.
We’re not, in this space, going to go too deeply into the whens and wherefores about why the utility says it needs to go deeper into customers’ pockets. We think they’ve been covered fairly well on our news pages, and that’s where we’ll continue to pursue the issue. We would, however, like to make two points.
◘ Ballot Initiative 937, approved by Washington voters in 2007 and requiring state utilities to procure increasingly large amounts of their total output from renewable resources – wind energy would be an example – has a price tag, and state residents are about to start paying it.
The law makes its first real impact next year, mandating that 3 percent of all power be obtained through these sources in 2012. This rises to 9 percent in 2016 and 15 percent in 2020. The cost of this renewable power is currently about twice the price of hydroelectric power available from the Bonneville Power Administration, the PUD’s largest supplier. That ratio is not expected to change, at least over the next four years.
“We know people are angry,” Skeahan said, “but (state residents) voted for it.”
◘ The proper focus for complaints – and resentment, if it comes to that – is the three PUD commissioners and not PUD employees, even administrators in the upper salary brackets whose stipends seem to generate so much public outcry.
It was the commissioners, by a 2-1 vote, who elected to shield the utility’s two largest commercial customers – Weyerhauser and Longview Fibre – from the full impact of the rate increase. Had this vote gone the other way, residential and commercial customers would be looking instead at increases of between 16 and 17 percent.
The commission also considered, and rejected, accompanying the announcement of the pending rate increase by announcing wage freezes, pay cuts or layoffs, either throughout the utility or just among the top earners.
“They were all considered,” Skeahan said.
The three PUD commissioners – Buz Ketcham, Mark McCrady and Ned Piper – chose not to go there. The decision was theirs, and one of them faces the voters in every even-numbered year.
We also refer armchair quarterbacks who feel the PUD managers should have better anticipated trends in the market for electric power to the commissioners. The PUD’s executives serve at their discretion.
It’s hard to put even a small amount of lipstick on this pig, but the PUD employee who reads your meter or coaches your daughter’s basketball team doesn’t deserve to be made a target. They don’t set rates, they don’t set their own pay and they don’t have a vote on the commission that does.
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