December 26, 2001 11:00 pm

As we come to the close of another year, many people are thinking about their earning power. If you would like to increase your annual income and still live in Northeast Oregon it might be time to consider switching to a more lucrative employment opportunity working for a utility.

The Oregon Employment Department released income figures for jobs in Northeast Oregon for 2000 and one employment category stuck out like a sore thumb. The utility sectors employees are the best paid in the region on average. In 2000, employees who worked for Avista (the natural gas company), Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative and Pacific Power (Wallowa Countys utility) earned an average of $50,887.

This shouldnt surprise anyone considering that utility companies in Northeast Oregon raised rates obscenely to compensate for expenses. From the fall of 2000 to the fall of 2001, Avista and Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative raised rates between 50 and 60 percent.

Of course the utilities will tell you that the cost of natural gas and electricity skyrocketed to outrageous prices over the past couple of years and they were going to lose money if they didnt raise their rates accordingly. They will also say that they have to get approval from the states Public Utility Commission and, since they have to go through a lengthy process, they have proven their case for rate increases.

All that may be true, but we are hard pressed to think of any other business that can raise its rates by as much as the local utilities and keep them that high even when the prices for both commodities are dropping.

If you arent sure youd like to work for a utility, then youll have to get some special training to fit into the next category of security/commodity brokers, who averaged $47,697. Between the utility workers and federal government employees, the average dropped $11,717. Thats a huge drop, but even state employees, who were averaging $35,937, were making significantly more than the average regional job was paying at approximately $23,000.

Perhaps the next time the utilities approach the states Public Utility Commission with a proposed rate increase, the commissioners will be willing to err on the side of the customers who are now struggling under a rate structure that is sending many people into economic enslavement.


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