WALLA WALLA --- Plans are heating up for another increase in electricity rates.
Consumers are heating up, too.
PacifiCorp, the Portland-based company that serves about 127,000 Washington customers through Pacific Power, is seeking a 4.3 percent rate increase starting in May.
Under the proposal, average residential customers using 1,300 kilowatt hours per month would see a $4.65 increase in their bill, for a total of $107.73. That increase would bring $12.9 million in additional annual revenue for the company.
The request was initially filed last July with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission. Staff recommended cutting the PacificCorp's request by more than two-thirds.
Commission staff said they would support a 1.1 percent overall rate hike. That would mean a $1.33 increase for the average residential user of 1,300 kilowatt hours per month.
At that rate the average total residential bill would be $104.41. Pacific Power would receive a revenue increase of $3.3 million annually.
That proposal also includes a seven-cent increase in the basic monthly service charge -- from $6 to $6.07 for Pacific Power customers.
Customers would also see an 8-cent-a-month increase in their contribution to the company's low-income bill assistance program.
At a public hearing Jan. 24 in Walla Walla, the first six speakers were all Boise Inc. employees, including company Vice President Terry Ward, who said that "from a company point of view we're very shocked about the rate hike."
The company has seen steep increases in Pacific Power electricity rates over the past several years, he said. The "almost annual" raises are threatening the viability of the mill, which supports hundreds of family-wage jobs, he said.
"We strongly urge you to reject this rate increase," he said.
David Tobin, mill energy engineer, said rates keep going up despite efforts to conserve power at the plant.
"Our power consumption has been kept even, but power costs have gone up 34 percent," he said. "It's just becoming very, very tough to stay competitive."
But Carl Brenneise, a residential ratepayer and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers employee, pointed out Pacific Power, just like the Corps, has to deal with replacing or upgrading an aging infrastructure.
"Don't be so expectant of getting rates reduced because Pacific Power has to cover those costs," he said.
The three-member commission -- which is not bound by staff recommendation -- will have the final say.
Pacific Power's Washington customers, including in Walla Walla, Columbia and Garfield counties, saw rates increase last April.
The utility company had asked for a nearly 21 percent increase. Instead the commission approved 12 percent.
In July, PacifiCorp officials testified the previous rate increase was not enough to enable the company to meet the return on equity approved by the commission.
Public comments are being accepted through March 30. Written comments can be sent to P.O. Box 47250 Olympia, WA, 98504 or via email at email@example.com, or call in comments at 1-888-333-9882.