Energy conservation urged at PUD hearing

Rates should encourage cut in consumption, residents say

PORT TOWNSEND — A public hearing on proposed Jefferson County Public Utility District rate increases drew concerns that the higher base rate would not encourage energy conservation.

The commissioners did not take action during Tuesday night’s hearing. They will continue discussions at their next meeting on April 19; the goal will be to take action and implement rate increases by July.

Eleven people spoke during the public hearing. While no one argued against raising the rates in general, many were concerned that the base fee proposed for electricity would limit energy conservation efforts.

Jefferson County resident Tom Engle urged the commissioners to modify the plan to reduce the base rate and increase the use rate to encourage residents to cut energy consumption.

“The proposed rate does not support conservation by rewarding people for conserving energy,” he said.

Resident Roger Grisley sees the base fee increase as unfair for people trying to save energy.

“I think it escalates poverty,” he said.

The plans have not been finalized yet. But board chair Dan Toepper supports a higher base rate increase verses a higher rate increase, as it is more predictable for customers and in years of bad weather that raises the need for electricity usage, it would limit the impacts of the higher use needs.

“I like the base rates because it’s expected … while usage is a lot more variable,” he said Tuesday night. “I’m tending to stay with the predictable.”

Consultant FCS Group found that expenses for water and sewer services in 2020 overtook revenues, and while it’s expected that the 2021 budget for electricity will be $1.6 million revenue positive, a $400,000 shortfall from water services is anticipated, Will O’Donnell, PUD communications director, has said.

At the current rates, the PUD would not meet its required financial ratios to meet its debt service beginning in 2023, O’Donnell said.

Under the proposal, electric rates would increase by 3 percent this year, followed by a 7 percent increase in 2022, and 3.5 percent increases in both 2023 and 2024, as well as adding an additional monthly $2.50 base fee, increasing annually, O’Donnell said.

If approved, residential electric customers also would have the $2.50 increased base fee each month for the remainder of 2021, with no increase in consumption charges below 1,600 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month.

Above 1,600 kWh, a new rate of $0.1143 per kWh would be assessed, and consumption rates would increase starting in 2022 for all levels, O’Donnell said.

For the PUD customer using an average of 1,000 kWh per month, the electrical increase would raise average monthly prices from $114.22 to $116.72 for 2021 for the base charge.

The cost would further rise to $125.24 monthly in 2022, $129.97 in 2023 and $134.85 in 2024 with the increase in consumption rates and the additional base fees, according to the PUD’s website.

Water and sewer increases would not affect Port Townsend customers, since that is provided and managed by the City of Port Townsend.

The proposed water rate increase includes an average increase of 16 percent each year across all customer types in 2021, 2022 and 2023, with a 6.75 percent increase in 2024, O’Donnell said.

An additional $5 capital surcharge will also be added for water customers each month starting in 2022, O’Donnell said.

There would be no consumption increase for 2021 for most water users. But Kala Point customers would be brought up to be in line with the rest of the county through a hike per 100 gallons, from 25 cents to 27 cents under 5,000 gallons of water used in 2021, to 31 cents in 2022, according to the PUD’s website.

For the residential PUD customer using an average of 4,200 gallons each month per year, rates would increase from $37.83 currently to $44.83 per month this year, $52.78 per month in 2022, $61.06 in 2023 and $65.51 per month in 2024, according the website.

The average PUD water bill is about $40 a month, and the 16 percent increases amount to about $7 per month, which would be added to the base rate.

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Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected]

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