Clark Public Utilities gives green light to electricity rate increase

Rate increase begins next week

Electric rates for Clark County residents will increase by nearly 6 percent beginning Sept. 1.

On Aug. 17, the Clark Public Utilities Board of Commissioners approved the increase, which district officials say is needed because of factors including the local effects of the recession, a warm winter and higher taxes.

For a typical homeowner using 1,500 kilowatt-hours a month, the average bill will increase by $6.95, from $122.75 to $129.70. Rates for commercial and industrial customers will increase by varying amounts, based on usage patterns.

Director of Finance Rick Dyer said the increase was unavoidable.

“When the 2010 budget was adopted, it was very tight,” Dyer said. “The budget included absorbing a 4.6 percent increase in BPA power costs that was effective in October 2009, and an upcoming increase of the same amount that will be effective Oct. 1, 2010. At the time, we made numerous cuts to the budget, including reductions in construction spending, a wage freeze for non-union employees and a freeze in hiring new employees except in rare circumstances.”

The budget assumed revenues of $388 million, and a surplus of just $410,000.

“That left no margin for the unexpected,” Dyer added.

He said the budget also assumed average weather conditions and improvement in the local economy. Both assumptions, however, did not turn out in the district’s favor.

Adding to the district’s expenses, the Washington Legislature approved measures that will increase its taxes by about $1 million this year, and a recent court decision will cost an additional $1.9 million in taxes.

“No one wants to raise rates, but this was a long time coming,” said Nancy Barnes, president of the utility’s board of commissioners. “I’m proud of the cost-cutting efforts we’ve made.”

She added: “Our responsibilities as commissioners forced us to approve a minimal increase to ensure that we’re able to continue providing our customer-owners with reliable service while still meeting our financial commitments.”

Clark Public Utilities provides electric service to more than 183,000 customers throughout Clark County.