Port Angeles, others, examine effect of Bonneville electrical power billing proposal

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — Bonneville Power Administration is proposing a change in billing for electrical transmission that could cost the city of Port Angeles $1 million more per year, and mean a rise in rates for utility customers, if it comes into effect in October.

The amount the change could mean for city utility rate-payers is uncertain, according to Phil Lusk, the city’s deputy director for power and telecommunications systems.

The proposal also could affect customers served by Clallam County PUD in Sequim, Forks and unincorporated areas outside Port Angeles, according to PUD spokesman Mike Howe. But the change is far from set in stone, Lusk said.

City staff, council members and residents will have to chance to make their voices heard on the proposed changes during a comment period running now until Feb. 15.

Public comments can be submitted through the BPA’s website at http://tinyurl.com/BPARates — scroll down to “BP-14 Rate Proceeding” — by calling 800-622-4519 and referencing the BP-14 rate proceeding, or by mailing comments to BPA P.O. Box 14428, Portland, Ore., 97293, BPA spokeswoman Teresa Waugh said.

Comments then become part of the BPA record for this proposed change, Waugh said, and will be reviewed with the rest of the record on this topic by the BPA administrator when he makes his final decision, expected in October.

Terry Mundorf, from Mill-Creek-based law firm Marsh Mundorf Pratt Sullivan & McKenzie, addressed BPA’s proposed changes to the way it bills for electricity transmission — transporting electricity BPA’s generators to its customers — at the Tuesday meeting of Port Angeles’ Utility Advisory Committee.

According to the Washington Public Agencies Group, an association of 16 Washington and Oregon public utilities that is involved in BPA rate discussions and policy issues, the city could pay between 55 percent and 60 percent more for electricity transmission — roughly $1 million — under BPA’s proposed billing changes, Mundorf said via conference call at Tuesday’s meeting.

“These are preliminary numbers, but if they come to pass they would have a severely adverse impact on the city and its residents,” Mundorf said.

Port Angeles City Council members will discuss the issue at their 6 p.m. Tuesday meeting at Port Angeles City Hall, 321 East Fifth St., which Mundorf and Anne Falcon, another consultant working on this issue, are planning to attend, Lusk said.

Lusk said Wednesday he was not prepared to say how much exactly this estimated 55-percent-to-60-percent increase would affect each Port Angeles resident’s utility bill but said it would hit all the city’s electric utility customers: residential, commercial and industrial.

BPA expects the proposed rate changes to increase power generation costs to the agency’s 70 public utility and municipal accounts by an average of 9.6 percent and transmission rates by an average of 11.2 percent.

Lusk estimated a 11.2 percent increase in the city’s transmission costs would mean a roughly 1 percent increase in city residents’ electric bills, while the 9.6 percent uptick in power generation costs could increase electric bills by another 4 to 5 percent.

Lusk added, however, that these percent increases are based on electricity use predictions that could change by October, if the BPA’s proposal takes effect then.

Mike Howe, spokesman for Clallam County Public Utility District, said the proposed BPA rate changes would mean the utility district paying between 25 and 30 percent more in transmission costs and between 8 and 10 percent more in power generation costs.

For the public utility district’s roughly 30,000 customers — which include Sequim, Forks and unincorporated Clallam County residents and commercial businesses — this could mean a monthly bill increase of up to 3 percent.

“But we may do nothing and just absorb [the increased cost],” Howe said.

The effect on the proposal on utilities can differ.

The city of Port Angeles is now charged monthly for the amount of electricity flowing through transmission lines to the city when BPA is experiencing the highest flow across all of its transmission lines, generally called a peak transmission load, Lusk said.

BPA’s peak does not necessarily coincide with the city’s peak, Lusk said, meaning the city has not always been charged for the highest amount of electricity flowing to the city every month.

Under BPA’s proposed change, however, the city would be charged for its citywide peak transmission load every month, regardless of what BPA’s system-wide transmission peak load is, Lusk said.

Long story short: the change in BPA’s billing method could drastically increase the amount the city pays for electricity, Lusk explained, since the city would be paying for the highest amount of electricity flowing to it each month, every month.

According to testimony BPA published as part of considering the billing method change, the agency wants to shift to charging transmission customers each month for each customer’s highest monthly load because this method allows the BPA to better plan for needed system investments.

The agency had not re-examined the way it bills its customers since 2003.

If BPA’s proposal goes through, Lusk said the city would work to reduce peaks.

“The closer we can get to having a flat [transmission use] line is one of the ways we could help mitigate the potential impacts,” Lusk said.

Before it comes to that, though, Mundorf said he recommends the city work with the Western Public Agencies Group and BPA to make sure the agency knows the repercussions the billing changes would have.

“You can’t say enough [times] to Bonneville, ‘This isn’t right, this is having a bad impact on the community,’” Mundorf said.

Lusk said the city’s goal for now is to work with BPA on keeping the proposed billing change from happening.

“Our preferred approach is that [BPA] maintain the current billing practice,” Lusk said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 14. 2013 5:37PM
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