PUD hopes to avert steep boost in electric bills

While hydroelectric power - a renewable energy resource - provides the bulk of Clallam County PUD’s electricity, local PUD users are facing steep electric bill increases to pay for developing other sources of renewable energy.

The Energy Independence Act (Initiative 937) was approved by voters in Washington state in 2006. The initiative requires utilities with 25,000 or more users to steadily increase the amount of “renewable” energy coming into local electric grids. The portion of the load hit three percent this year, and is set to go to nine percent in 2016 and up to fifteen percent in 2020.

“Under the Act, existing low cost and clean hydropower is not considered a renewable energy source,” a statement from the Clallam County PUD states. Ted Simpson, President of the PUD Commissioners, says on the PUD’s website, “Not only is low cost clean hydropower not considered renewable under the Act, but if we experience minimal load growth we are still required to replace that very affordable clean power with power that is 3-4 times more costly.”

Cost comparisons show utilites currently pay about $30 per megawatt-hour for hydropower energy while energy generated through wind and solar sources costs about  $90-plus-per megawatt-hour.

Energy sold by the Clallam County PUD is now generatedalmost totally by hydropower. 

The local PUD  was founded in 1940, and at first used power generated by Elwha River dams.

In 1949 the Bonneville Power Authority connected a high-voltage transmission line to  Port Angeles from the Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River, the current source of local energy. The PUD also provides water and wastewater service and is now sells wholesale broadband Internet service.

“This really comes down to local control, a cornerstone of public power,” Simpson says. “Clallam PUD has locally elected commissioners that govern the utility in the best interests of its customers. This Act mandates how we do that and ultimately results in increasing rate pressures.”

Doug Nass, PUD General Manager added, “The changes to the Act supported by this resolution do not change the intent of the original Initiative, it simply allows for greater local control and adapts to the current economic climate where growth is very slow It really doesn’t make much sense to purchase power that is 3-4 times more expensive than the clean renewable hydropower we have now, especially if we don’t need it.”

PUD users on the West End are already paying for the three percent boost.

Simpson has been speaking before local community organizations such as the West End Business & Professional Association (WEBPA) and the  Forks Chamber of Commerce, seeking support for the amendment. A hand out from the grass roots, Tri-Cities-based Citizens For Protecting Our Washington Energy Rates is being distributed locally.

The amendment was initially drawn up in the Tri-Cities, an area also using hydropower, but facing steep electrical bill boosts due to EIA initiative.

“The main goal is to not change the original intent of the initiative which is to promote renewable resources and conservation, but to protect consumers from paying for unneeded power costs that utilities must past on to them,” a statement from Citizens for POWER states in their hand out on the issue.

The organization said consumers and business owners need to call their Legislators to show support for the amendment during the 2013 session if they want it passed. 

The WEBPA passed a resolution in support of the amendment to the EIA initiative at the organization’s Wednesday, Sept. 12 meeting. Also on Sept. 12 the Forks Chamber of Commerce voted to have its board consider supporting the amendment; the board meets at the end of the month. 

At the Chamber meeting, Port of Port Angeles President and District 3 Commissioner John Calhoun commented that the proposed amendment would have no effect on the growing use of woody biomass to produce electricity at mills in Clallam County. Woody biomass is “still fully in demand wouldn’t be affected by the change,” he later told the Forks Forum.

The hand out states, “While the initiative was intended to increase energy conservation and the use of renewable power even if they don’t need it to serve their customers. These unneeded costs are passed on to consumers of Washington State.” It also says that environmental organizations and renewable energy developers have fought against any bills presented in the Legislature that amends the EIA.

The Citizens for POWER organization’s website provides background material on the issue.

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