Clark Public Utilities bills up slightly as rebate decreases

Average customer will see increase of about $5 a month

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

 

Clark Public Utilities didn’t raise rates to pay for its 2014 operations, but that doesn’t mean residential customers will escape paying more for electricity this year.

Effective Jan. 1, an average home using 1,100 kilowatt-hours saw its monthly bill go up by about $5 per month, according to the utility.

The higher electric bill is tied to a legal settlement of a complicated issue, the residential exchange program.

The exhange gives residential and small-farm customers of for-profit utilities such as Portland General Electric a share of low-cost hydropower generated by the federal system.

More than two years ago, the Bonneville Power Administration and regional power providers reached a settlement on residential exchange payments. That settlement sent money to Clark Public Utilities to be returned to residential and small-farm customers in the form of a credit on their bills.

The credit was first applied to customers’ bills in October 2011. That same year, the Clark Public Utilities Board of Commissioners approved an electric-rate increase, including a rise in the energy cost from 7.98 cents per kilowatt-hour to 8.16 cents per kilowatt-hour.

However, residential customers actually saw their monthly bills go down because of the credit, which amounted to roughly 0.5 of a cent per kilowatt-hour on their bills each month through 2013.

The utility originally anticipated that the credit, which comes from the BPA and goes directly to customers, would go away in 2014, said Erica Erland, spokeswoman for the utility. Instead, the utility “did qualify to receive a smaller amount of settlement funds” this year, she said. As a result, customers will receive a lower credit amount instead of seeing the credit vanish altogether.

The credit — which shows up on bills as a separate line (REP Credit) — was reduced from 0.568 cents per kilowatt-hour to 0.119 cents per kilowatt-hour. The BPA credit reduction translates to an extra $5 per month for an average home using 1,100 kilowatt-hours. The utility expects the credit will disappear after 2014.

Customers informed

Customers are receiving word of the credit reduction in the utility’s January Currents newsletter and as a message on their bills this month.

In an email to The Columbian, Erland said that the decreased credit piles on after recent cold weather, “so some customers will see higher-than-average bills because of increased usage.”

Erland said customers who are struggling to pay their electric bills may call the utility at 360-992-3000 for information about assistance programs or payment arrangements. She said the utility’s EqualPay program — click “Payment Options” at clarkpublicutilities.com — “helps smooth out fluctuations in bills due to weather and can make monthly budgeting more predictable.”

The EqualPay program is a “good option for customers who may not be eligible for income-based assistance programs but who would prefer steady payments throughout the year,” Erland said.

Clark Public Utilities, established by voters in 1938, provides electric service to more than 184,000 customers and water service to more than 30,000 homes and businesses.

The last time the utility raised the electric rate was in November 2011. It added $2 to the base monthly residential customer charge, raising it to $12, and boosted the energy cost, which was 7.98 cents per kilowatt-hour, to 8.16 cents per kilowatt-hour.

Commissioners unanimously approved largely status quo electric and water budgets for 2014. No rate increases were involved.