Some Pacific Power customers may see their energy bills increase by 14% if a proposed plan by the company is approved.
In the plan submitted to the state, the utilities are requesting an $84 million annual increase in rates for customers in Oregon, an increase of 6.8%. But this increase will affect different types of customers in different ways.
The average housing bill is $91.89 for customers in single-family homes using 900 kWh per month. The company’s demand will increase that to $104.90 per month. That would be a 14.2% increase.
Also, multifamily homes that use an average of 600 kilowatts per month will see their bills increase by $6.97 per month, an 11% increase, under the proposal.
Knowledge Murphy, Multnomah County’s sustainability coordinator, testified at the state’s public comment session on Tuesday, “A significant increase in Pacific Power’s bill could break customers’ budgets.”
Commercial and industrial customers will receive smaller percentage increases, although the company has not indicated what that would be in publicly available information.
Pacific Power serves approximately 600,000 Oregon customers in cities such as Albany, Bend, Dallas, Grants Pass, Hermiston, Independence, Lebanon, Lincoln City, Medford, and parts of Portland, Roseburg and Stetton.
As an investor-owned facility, Pacific Power’s prices are set by the state. The company submits files to the state for price increases. It was approved or rejected by the state commission.
Everyone who testified in Tuesday’s session was against the increase.
“This rate increase is putting thousands of Oregonians at risk,” said Alessandra de la Torre of Phoenix, who works with Rogue Climate.
Of the required increase of $84.4 million, Pacific Power proposes spending $41.4 million on vegetation management for wildfires, $17.1 million on capital structure improvements, $14.8 million for a wind farm project in Wyoming, and $9 million in insurance , and $8.4 million on operations and maintenance.
Pacific Power said the rate increase is needed as energy costs increase for the first time in five years. But it says the increase will be less than the national average of 27% over the past year.
The company said in its filing that it has saved customers in the state $102 million through the use of carbon-neutral energy through the end of 2021.
“We are in a period of significant change. We are investing in the security, resilience, and resilience of our energy grid, and building for a zero-emissions energy future,” said Matt McPhee, Vice President of Regulatory Policy and Operations, Pacific Power, in a statement.
“As we do so, we remain steadfast in our commitment to our customers and communities and will continue to look for new ways to reduce the impacts on customer bills along the way.”
Pacific Power cut electricity rates by 5.2% in 2021.
Between water needs and high utility rates, many farmers are on the verge of solvency, said Ryan Klewer, an organic farmer and vice president of the Klamath Water Users Association.
He said an increase like the one proposed by Pacific Power would put some farmers out of business.
“We have a severe drought situation, so water efficiency is critical to our operations,” Klewer said. “Water efficiency is largely provided by electric power.”
The increase, if approved, would be about $200 per year for a residential client.
De la Torre said the rate increase would unfairly affect those in southern and eastern Oregon the company serves.
“I work with these families just like many others, and they are constantly asking what they can do to reduce utility bills,” said de la Torre.
Pacific Power is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Energy, the company largely owned and operated by Warren Buffett, one of the richest people in the world.
Worth $713 billion, Murphy said Berkshire Hathaway has spent $52 billion repurchasing its shares last year and has $144 billion in cash and cash equivalents to be set aside to buy back more shares.
He notes that Buffett acquired $34.4 billion in wealth during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It seems that the desire to make more profits does not match the need for more profits,” Murphy said.
People questioned the lack of detail in the portion of the proposal that was presented to the public. They wondered how much profit would be increased from the rate increase and how much more CEOs would be paid.
Robin Vora, a Bend resident, said the increase was 14% higher than the current rate of inflation.
“I saw the list of the seven and six categories,” she said immediately. “There aren’t enough details out there for you to be able to say you need to.”
According to Pacific Power, more than 30,000 of its customers in the state received $13.8 million in assistance paying their electric bills in 2020.
“And the timing, once again, could not be, in my opinion, worse than asking for a facility increase,” said Joe Ray Perkins, who is running for the US Senate. “Families, frankly, can’t stand it.”
The committee can approve the price increase, approve part of it, or reject it. They can make a settlement about it.
Katie Maps, the administrative law judge in the case, said the commission usually adopts an increase that is less than what is required.
“They can’t raise interest rates above what the utilities have asked for,” Mapes said.
The Public Utilities Commission will take comments on Pacific Power’s proposal through June 22.
People can call 800-522-2404, email firstname.lastname@example.org Or write to Attn: AHD-UE 3099, Oregon Public Utility Commission, PO Box 1088 Salem OR, 97308-1088 with comments.
A hearing on the increase is scheduled for August 2 and oral arguments for August 25. The committee is on track to make its decision in December. Any rate increase takes effect on January 1, 2023.
Bill Buller covers Marion County for the Statesman Journal. It can be accessed atbpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com
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