BPA’s rate hike will affect OTECC customers

November 12, 2012 02:02 pm

The Bonneville Power Administration’s decision to seek wholesale and transmission rate increases for electricity will impact Oregon Trail Electric Consumer Cooperative customers, though it’s not yet known by how much.

Member-owned, Baker City-based OTECC said last week that Bonneville has proposed a wholesale rate increase of 9.6 percent to compensate for reduced revenue, and a 13 percent increase in transmission rates because of continued efforts to maintain system reliability and meet increasing demands for transmission of alternative energy sources such as wind power.

OTECC, which serves electric consumers in Union, Baker, Grant and Harney counties, said local consumers will pay a higher price, though it’s not yet known how much.

“It’s too early to determine what the rate increase means specifically to OTECC customers, but we do know it will cost all of us more,” said OTECC General Manager Werner Buehler.

Because Bonneville is a U.S. Department of Energy agency, the Oregon Public Utilities Commission does not have jurisdiction over the rate increase requests.

As a federal agency, Bonneville is required to hold a public comment period where those affected by rate increases have an opportunity to comment. The comment period for the rate increases under consideration will take place in coming months, though precise dates haven’t been set.

Buehler said OTECC will use the comment period as a chance to continue working in the best interest of members.

“As a not-for-profit member-owned cooperative, our role is to keep the rates as low as possible while providing a safe and reliable service.” Buehler said. “Rest assured, we are committed to keeping open communications with our members, and will keep members apprised of the BPA rate increase process.”

Bonneville said in its own press release that energy markets are forecast to be suppressed by low natural gas prices, reducing Bonneville’s revenue expectations from surplus power sales.

Bonneville said the 9.6 percent average wholesale power rate increase is to compensate for those reduced expectations, and to fund needed investments in the Federal Columbia River Power System.

The 13 percent transmission rate increase, according to Bonneville, is due to efforts to maintain system reliability and meet increasing demands for transmission in the Pacific Northwest. 

BPA said that if adopted, the transmission rate increase would be for the first in eight years.

In January of this year, Bonneville started discussions in the region about  proposed programs, future costs and potential rates for fiscal years 2014 and 2015. At the outset of the discussions, Bonneville forecast its power rates could increase between 12-21 percent, while transmission rates could go up by about 12 percent.

“We are acutely aware of the economic impact of our rates and have worked closely with the region to develop a plan that keeps rates as low as possible while making needed investments in infrastructure,” said Steve Wright, Bonneville’s administrator and CEO.

Bonneville said the public comment process will culminate in a decision in July, 2013. The new rates would take effect Oct. 1, 2013.