Power proposes 10% rate increase for irrigation customers
PORTLAND — One of Oregon’s largest electric utilities is seeking
a 10% rate increase for irrigation customers in part to help pay
for more renewable energy and transmission upgrades.
Pacific Power submitted its request for a general rate revision
to the Oregon Public Utility Commission on Feb. 14. The PUC held
public hearings by telephone and video conference on April 2 and
13 to discuss the proposal. New rates would not go into effect
The timing, however, is not ideal as the coronavirus pandemic
has shuttered non-essential businesses, helping to drive down
commodity prices while farmers and ranchers face labor shortages
and supply chain disruptions.
Overall, Pacific Power wants to raise rates by an average of
1.6%, collecting an additional $21.6 million per year. Most
residential customers would pay an extra $4.03 on their monthly
bills, the utility says.
It is nonetheless a difficult request given the circumstances,
as nearly 300,000 Oregonians have filed for unemployment over
the four weeks ending April 11, according to the latest figures
from the state Employment Department.
“Clearly, these proposals were made before COVID-19 was on
anyone’s radar,” said Tom Gauntt, a Pacific Power spokesman. “We
know that the disruption and pain caused by the virus will play
a part in this ongoing process.”
The rate hike for Pacific Power’s 7,984 irrigation customers in
Oregon would be even steeper — 10% — according to the PUC
filing. Gauntt said this would be partially offset by a
projected 4.6% decrease in fuel costs, thanks to wider adoption
of cheaper renewable energy like wind, solar and hydro power.
Irrigators could also lower their costs through a new program
aimed at shifting their energy usage to off-peak hours. For
example, Gauntt said farmers could save as much as 8% by not
turning on their pumps from 2 to 6 p.m. or 6 to 10 p.m., and
shifting usage to a different time of their choosing.
The Oregon Farm Bureau and Oregon Water Resources Congress
submitted joint comments April 10 to the PUC opposing the
change, saying members cannot afford higher energy costs on top
of a global pandemic that has shrunk already thin operating
“Oregon’s farmers and rancher will be lucky to weather this
storm and cannot afford additional increased costs on top of a
global pandemic,” the groups wrote.
Agriculture stands to shoulder the largest net increase across
all customer classes. Pacific Power serves 587,400 residential
customers in Oregon, 131,500 residential customers in Washington
and 45,100 residential customers in California.
Mary Anne Cooper, vice president of public policy for the Farm
Bureau, added that farmers in many cases cannot use the off-peak
needs are driven by weather, crop and water availability, Cooper
said, and cannot be planned around certain times of day.
“You need to be irrigating when crops require irrigation,” she
Cooper said the Farm Bureau is still deciding whether to
formally intervene in the rate case.
“We’re concerned why agriculture has the highest net increase at
a time when our folks are very vulnerable,” she said. “It’s
really not something we can afford right now.”
approved, it would be Pacific Power’s first rate increase in
seven years. Over the last three years, Pacific Power has
promised to invest $3.1 billion in new and existing wind farms
as part of the Energy Vision 2020 initiative, which has nearly
doubled the utility’s renewable energy capacity.
includes retrofitting the existing wind fleet with larger
turbine blades and new technology; adding 1,150 megawatts of new
wind power by the end of 2020; and building a new 140-mile
Gateway West transmission segment in Wyoming to enable
additional wind generation.
Bird, Pacific Power president and CEO, said the top priority is
to deliver “affordable, safe, reliable and increasingly clean
electricity to our customers and communities so they can
filings reflect significant progress to date, and we are
committed to continue to innovate and provide our customers with
industry-leading sustainable energy solutions,” Bird said in an
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