Benton PUD rates to increase 32%; local Rep. trying to stop it - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Benton PUD rates to increase 32%; local Rep. trying to stop it

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KENNEWICK, Wash. -- Benton PUD leaders are estimating a huge jump in power prices over the next four years, but one local lawmaker says there's something that can be done about it.

Representative Larry Haler is bringing a couple of things to lawmakers in January, one of which is making hydro power a renewable energy. He says that's because it is cheap, eco-friendly and made locally. However, a PUD representative says the biggest reason for the rate increase is Bonneville Power Administration, PUD's wholesaler. They are expected to also raise their prices.

PUD customers want answers. Austin Wassmuth says, "I'd like to see a reason behind that if it's that big of a jump, because that's like 1/3 of your bill." The rate increase is projected at 32% in the next four years.

Karen Miller, Benton PUD Communication Director tells KNDU, "Benton PUD is looking at a rate increase as of January 1st of about 8% ."
 
The new figures show power bills will go up for the PUD's nearly 47,000 customers by 8 percent in 2011, 10 percent in 2012, 6.6 percent in 2013 and 4 percent in 2014.

Republican Representative Haler says Initiative 937 is part of the problem. It requires power utility companies to provide at least 3% of their power from renewable resources like solar and wind. However, Washington is the only state that does not recognize hydro power as a renewable energy. Haler wants lawmakers to change that.  He says Initiative 937 is going to require companies like Benton PUD to make renewable resources 15% in 2020, which is very expensive. "To recognize hydro as renewable in this state, so we can start taking credit for what we're making here that's renewable and it's a lot cheaper to use," says Haler.

He also says hydro is cheap but we are forced to buy alternatives that are 2 to 3 times more expensive. Haler explains, "renewable power that qualifies for Initiative 937 is more expensive than the hydro power that we're getting from BPA."

Miller says that's only 4% of the rate increase. The rest is blamed on their wholesaler, BPA. "Power costs are about 2/3 of our budget, and this is impacted by BPA rates, which are going up about 10%," says Miller.

She goes on to say a third reason for the increase is that Benton PUD often resells energy it doesn't use to make extra money to offset their costs. Miller says right now, the market value for the energy we sell is low, therefore we're not bringing in enough revenue.

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