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News / Business / Clark County Business

Clark Public Utilities holding series of informational workshops designed to explain rate hike, complexity of its mission

Some elected officials were concerned about 14.5% rate increase

By Sarah Wolf, Columbian staff writer
Published: February 13, 2024, 6:06am
4 Photos
Erica Erland, director of communications and corporate citizenship for Clark Public Utilities, explains how different kinds of utilities are regulated.
Erica Erland, director of communications and corporate citizenship for Clark Public Utilities, explains how different kinds of utilities are regulated. (Photos by James Rexroad for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Clark Public Utilities took heat from local lawmakers for raising rates 14.5 percent in January. On Monday, the utility offered a workshop to educate leaders, touching on forces that led to the first rate hike in 12 years, including extreme weather and regulatory efforts to combat climate change.

The informational session at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, attended by about 30 people, was the first in a series of four planned through March. The other sessions will discuss power supply and energy efficiency; equitable clean energy transformation; and secure, resilient and scalable infrastructure and systems.

At Monday’s meeting, senior staffers outlined the myriad laws and regulatory agencies governing the utility.

“We all have to understand the many complex variables and the dynamics that shift all the time,” said Erica Erland, director of communications and corporate citizenship at Clark Public Utilities. “It impacts the decisions that we’re making.”

Clark Public Utilities Power Manager Steve Andersen walked through the numerous plans the utility is required to have and regularly update, including the integrated resource plan and the newer transportation electrification plan, among others.

He also pointed to the external factors impacting the utility, such as extreme weather and higher wholesale energy prices, both of which have become more of an issue in recent years.

Andersen broke down the different laws limiting what energy resources the utility can use now and in the years ahead.

The Energy Independence Act requires 15 percent of the utility’s power to come from renewable resources, namely solar and wind. Hydropower and nuclear aren’t considered renewable in this law.

The Clean Energy Transformation Act is geared toward moving the state of Washington to carbon-free electricity by 2045, lessening carbon-producing resources before that time.

The Climate Commitment Act caps and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from the state’s largest emitting businesses.

Andersen showed a chart displaying the past 10 years of wholesale power rates and what they are expected to be in the next few years. The on-peak market price in 2024 is expected to be more than five times what it was in 2012.

This is due in part to closure of coal power plants in the state. But it’s also due to very low snowpack, which reduces dams’ electricity generation.

Last year, for instance, much of the snowpack melted in May, which led to good generation when demand for power wasn’t high, Andersen said.

“Right now, this year is looking even a little bit worse than last year as far as hydro generation goes,” Andersen said.

Plus, electricity demand now peaks not just in the winter months but also in the summer.

The utility is searching for more energy projects and storage for renewable resources.

The utility’s leaders stressed the importance of maintaining relationships with local leaders.

“We are partnering on a lot of these projects, and to meet some of these requirements in the future, it’s going to require collaboration,” Erland said.

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Vancouver City Manager Eric Holmes said the informational session was helpful.

“We are all familiar with the legislative process,” Holmes said. “But there are some very unique things relative to public utilities and electricity.”

Clark Public Utilities serves nearly 250,000 customers in the county.

Editor’s Note: This story has been corrected to reflect the Energy Independence Act requires 15 percent of a utility’s power must come from renewable resources.