PUD rates going up no matter what we do

Web-Editorial-Gary-MugIt looks like our power bills will continue to increase, that is unless we as individual ratepayers can find ways to cut back on consumption. After a while that just seems like a case of diminishing returns – without the power we aren’t as productive.

What’s the alternative, living in a cave, alternative sources of power like wind and solar? For most of us who’d like to be more self-sufficient in our energy needs, it’s still not cost effective right now. Sure prices have come down, but to continue with the types of lifestyles most of us have adopted the initial outlay to disconnect from the grid is just too much. And for those on a limited or fixed income it is impossible.

It’s hard to imagine nowadays, but a trip back through the old issues of the Gazette-Tribune reveal a time when our public utilities were trying to get the people to invest in things like electric lights, stoves and other appliances. It was a push for rural electrification. Now divesting of some of the electric wonder devices, though now more efficient, might be the model we should be following today. Yet, how much is enough?

At one of the public meetings held by the Okanogan County PUD on the coming rate increase, we were basically told a rate increase was forgone conclusion. The costs to operate the utility are going up, while the revenues are going down. That’s not because of a lack of customers – residential, commercial and agricultural. One of the biggest differences is the loss of a market in which to sell our surplus hydro power. While wet years have led to a drop in prices compared to times past, now more generation is being done through burning cheap, relatively clean natural gas. Those Californians who seemed ready to pay anything for our extra power have found a new source for their energy fix.

At that public meeting Enloe Dam came up and whether relicensing and rehabing the dam was one of the reasons for the upcoming power increase. We were assured it wasn’t, that no matter whether the utility proceeds with its dam plans or not, we were behind the eight ball. What we were helping the PUD Commissioners to decide was just how much rates would increase and how fast. It sounds like they may adopt a plan that gradually increases rates so that we feel the hit less powerfully – but one way or another we are going to see higher increases – especially more so than our neighbors in PUD districts that have their own power generation.

It’s probably too late for Enloe to make a difference now toward that end. Back in the late 1980’s a Bellevue Company was trying to purchase the right to rehabilitate Enloe with the idea that they would generate power for 10 years and then turn an operating dam back to the PUD lock, (pen)stock and barrel so to speak. A misguided push to require fish ladders so that fish that never swam up the river because of the natural falls could do so led to that plan’s demise. Of course the Canadian government didn’t want the fish back then and neither did the Lower Similkameen Indian Band.

So now we have a dam that doesn’t generate power and the costs to get it to do so while keeping enough flow over the dam and falls could keep it from doing so economically. But that’s a topic for another editorial.