Monday, May 10, 2021
May 10, 2021

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Clark Public Utilities to return $20M to customers

Ratepayers’ bills will get credit from 2020 surplus

By , Columbian business reporter

The Clark Public Utilities Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday to send $20 million in 2020 surplus funds back to ratepayers in the form of bill credits, with an additional $5 million set aside for a fund to help customers facing financial struggles due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The customer-owned public utility provides electrical service to about 210,000 customers in Clark County and water service to about 37,000. If the nonprofit’s income exceeds its budget estimates for a given year, it’s up to the commission to decide what to do with the surplus.

Ratepayer reimbursements are a relatively common choice – the commission voted to make similar distributions of the prior year’s surplus funding in early 2017, 2018 and 2019, although in each of those years, the total sent back to ratepayers was $10 million rather than $20 million.

Surplus funds can also be put toward other uses, such as the utility’s rate stabilization fund or electric construction projects. The full 2020 surplus was around $31 million, according to Clark Public Utilities media specialist Dameon Pesanti.

The bill credits will be allocated based on a percentage of electricity usage from March 2020 to February 2021. Customers should see the credit show up on their bills in early April, according to a press release from the utility.

Customers enrolled in the EqualPay or Guarantee of Service Programs, which provide flat rate rather than usage-based monthly bills, will see the credit applied to their account balance instead of directly to their bill.

Customers can also choose to redirect their credits to Operation Warm Heart, the utility’s assistance program to help families in need pay their heating bills. Once the credit is posted, customers can donate it through their online account or by calling customer service at 360-992-3000.

The specific eligibility criteria for the additional $5 million COVID-19 hardship funding is still being determined, the utility said. The $5 million amount was chosen based on a review of the current roster of accounts with unpaid balances. The number of unpaid accounts has risen during the pandemic, Pesanti said.

“After what has been a very difficult and challenging year for so many of our customers, we’re pleased to be in a position to credit surplus funds and provide additional assistance to those who’ve been adversely affected by the pandemic,” Commissioner Jim Malinowski said in a statement. “Customers who would like to help local families in financial crisis and donate their credit to Operation Warm Heart will have an easy way to do that online.”