OKANOGAN — A 1.5 percent overall increase in the base charge for electricity is under consideration by Okanogan County Public Utility District commissioners.
First reading of the proposed resolution came during the commissioners’ Feb. 25 meeting. A second and final reading is anticipated March 11.
The increase, which goes into effect April 1, was anticipated in the 2019 budget, which was passed in December 2018.
“The goal is to cover debt service for projects on our construction plan,” said Don Coppock, director of accounting, finance and administration/auditor.
According to PUD documents, the increase would generate $698,400 this year.
The base fee — the minimum charge placed on a meter — would rise from $36 per month to $38.81 per month for a residential customer. Small general service customers would see their base rate go from $41 to $44.20 per month, while large general service customers’ monthly fee would rise from $21 to $22.64.
Industrial customers’ base rate would go from $82 per month to $88.40, irrigation from $15 to $16.27 (based on seven months per year) and frost control from $122 to $131.52 (during season).
PUD officials plan to borrow money for a variety of projects, with revenue from the base charge increase going toward paying off the debt.
Upgrading the 66-year-old Brewster-to-Okanogan transmission line. The increased capacity will allow the PUD to transmit more electricity from Wells Dam to the mid-valley area.
Rebuilding the Tonasket substation. Capacity would be increased. PUD officials said the transformer is one of the heaviest loaded in the system and the expanded substation will include a second transformer.
Replacing the 62-year-old power transformer at the Ellisforde substation. The work would increase capacity of the substation.
Adding a circuit out of the Nespelem Valley Electric Cooperative’s new Chicken Creek substation. That will allow the PUD to offload some of the demand on the Brewster station.
Conducting a study to find a suitable location for an additional substation in the Brewster area. The substation would provide long-term capacity in the south county area.
Working on other projects.
Coppock added that the PUD also would like to pay off the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 loan taken out wireless system improvements. ARRA also is known as the stimulus bill.
Kilowatt-hour charge will remain unchanged.
PUD officials said the base charge does not fluctuate from month to month, while changes to the kwh charge can impact large users.
The base charge attempts to recover the fixed costs of serving customers, including capital assets from the generation source to the customer meter, the PUD said. The last cost-of-service study showed that for residential customers, the base charge recovered about 50 percent of fixed costs.
Customer Rudolph Urban, Tonasket, said he didn’t understand the basic charge nor his monthly bill. He said he previously paid $75 per month for an 1,800-square-foot home in Snohomish County but now, as a recent transplant to Okanogan County, just got a bill for around $73 for a small cabin.
He said the base fee is too high and the per-kilowatt rate should be raised, and people who complain need to deal with it.
“I feel like you’re ripping people off” with the base fee, he said.
PUD General Manager Steve Taylor said the base fee is designed to pay for the cost of the system.
In other business, the board:
Heard a report from Kenny Stanley, energy services coordinator, about conservation programs.
Heard a report from Sheila Corson, community relations coordinator, about public information efforts, including an information sheet about the proposed base rate increase.
Learned the PUD purchased $880,000 worth of electricity on the open market to date during February because of cold weather.
“This is true supply and demand,” he said. “We’re buying and so is everybody else.”
Learned from Coppock that a request for proposals has been put out for a cost-of-service study.
Taylor said the study would be “very detailed” on predicting the next 10 years for costs, rate classes, costs for serving each rate class, electricity sources and so on.