PUD, public debate proposed electrical rate hikes

Kirk Boxleitner kboxleitner@ptleader.com
Posted 1/30/18

Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) customers expressed reservations regarding proposed electrical rate changes at a Jan. 29 meeting with PUD commissioners and staff.

Chimacum School …

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PUD, public debate proposed electrical rate hikes

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Jefferson County Public Utility District (PUD) customers expressed reservations regarding proposed electrical rate changes at a Jan. 29 meeting with PUD commissioners and staff.

Chimacum School District Superintendent Rick Thompson requested that the rate be reduced for schools, noting that the Chimacum district maintains 200,000 square feet of property, of which from “a third to a half” is “really old and hard to heat,” even after thorough examinations of energy-saving measures have been taken.

“We are an aging community, so our students are the lifeblood of our future,” said Thompson, who pointed out that the impending enforcement of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision could yield a decline in local tax revenues for school districts.

“As our fixed costs go up, there’s nowhere else we can look for cost savings than our staff,” said Amy Khile, business manager and the director of finance for the Port Townsend School District.

Jeff Randall, PUD board president, and Kenneth Collins, board secretary, agreed with the suggestion to spread the rate increases for schools over a three-year period.

SUPPORT, OPPOSITION

Dan Toepper of Port Ludlow was one of the few attendees to support rate increases, viewing them as a necessary sacrifice to achieve environmentally conscious innovations.

“We want the PUD to be greener and conserve more, but that takes money,” Toepper said. “Backing off on rate increases might be less painful in the short term, but it’ll still be hard.”

William Berson, who lives just outside of Port Townsend in what he described as “an ultra-low-energy house,” voiced concerns over the proposed jump in the electrical base rates.

“Last year, my base rate was 30 percent higher, which was my first experience with rate shock,” Berson said. “If you go ahead with this, it’ll go up another 15 percent. The base rate should be the fee for reading the meters and other fixed costs.”

Tom Brotherton of Quilcene challenged the PUD to “sharpen its pencils” and find more cost savings, criticizing the PUD for “developing its budget to meet its rates, rather than developing its rates to meet its budget.”

Tom Thiersch addressed the PUD with both critiques and compliments, opening his remarks by condemning the proposed base rate increase as “regressive” and damaging to low-income customers, even as he commended the PUD for its transparency in outlining how much of its water and sewer rate would go into capital projects.

“Why not specify that for the electrical rates as well?” Thiersch asked, while warning that branding it a “capital surcharge” risks misleading the public, since the “surcharge” label is often applied to fees that end after funding specific programs.

Collins interjected to inform attendees that the PUD does plan to offset charges to low-income customers.

Roger Risey expanded on Thiersch’s complaint as he deemed Washington state as a whole to be “the most regressive of all 50 states” in regard to such fees. He suggested that the Jefferson County PUD emulate Mason County, which forwent a rate increase.

“Last year, we came in $4.5 million over budget,” Risey said. “I like construction, but I’d prefer to see that go to rate relief.”

When Risey asserted that Mason County’s long-term debt is at least as great as that of the Jefferson County PUD, Wayne King, PUD board vice president, pointed out that Mason County has maintained its own utilities “since the 1930s, while we’ve only done it for the past five years.”

King praised Jefferson County PUD staff, and singled out its assistant general manager, Kevin Streett, for building the utility up from almost nothing.

“We took over a failing system,” King said. “There was nothing in the yard but some screwdrivers, wrenches and a truck. Kevin has done so much. Just give us a chance to do good here.”

RATE INCREASES

Streett and Gail Tabone of EES Consulting, who specializes in utility rate design, proposed a 4.8 percent increase to residential electric service, raising the current base from $14.50 a month to $18.50 a month and increasing the consumption rate by $.0084 per kilowatt-hour (kWh) last year.

At 1200 kWh, the PUD’s monthly bill would still fall below both Puget Sound Energy and Seattle City Light monthly bills, according to Tabone’s estimates, said PUD communications manager Will O’Donnell.

The electric rate increase proposal was triggered by biannual rate adjustments from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), which PUD officials said resulted in a 5.4 percent increase in the price of power to the Jefferson County PUD. The PUD receives all of its power from the BPA, and the cost of wholesale power from the BPA is the PUD’s single biggest expense, accounting for 46 percent of its annual budget, O’Donnell said.

The next scheduled Jefferson County PUD commissioners’ meeting is at 5 p.m., Tuesday, Feb. 6 in the boardroom of Jefferson Transit, located at 63 Four Corners Road.

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