Sunday, July 23, 2017 This Week's Paper

Our view: No good deed goes unpunished when it comes to power rates

Tacoma City Council rightfully has a few raised eyebrows about the proposed power rate hikes, but they might go into effect anyway for the same reason that so many bad decisions get made. Decisions are made at deadline with few alternatives to consider. Remember the whole light rail expansion routing decision (cough cough)…?
This time Tacoma Public Utilities had been forecasting rate changes last fall when the board of commissioners approved the utility’s budget. That budget was later approved by the City Council. With the budget passed and approved, the actual rates get their turn, just a few weeks before they go into effect. The TPU board approved the rates in late February and the City Council is set to do a second reading on them March 21, just 10 days before the April 1 rate changes are set to hit power bills.
The proposed changes call for a 5.9 percent hike this year and another hike this time next year on the portion of the power bill customers pay just to have power to their homes and apartments. That flat-rate change adds $5.75 to power bills in 2017 and again in 2018, doubling the connection charge customers pay just to be connected to the power grid that is currently $10.50 a month.
The actual rate for the power a customer uses isn’t set to change. The reasoning behind the change to the connection charge, rather than the per kilowatt hour of electricity a customer actually uses, is to recover the costs of maintaining the system, provide for more accurate revenue forecasting and avoid higher power usage increases for customers living in inefficient houses that largely don’t have proper insulation. The cost-per-customer for maintaining the system is about $25 a month, while customers will only pay $22 a month after both increases.
But some council members worry that an increase in the base rate and not the power rate itself will hurt efforts to get costumers to conserve energy, and actually hurt low income people who live in smaller apartments and already conserve power. Residents in less efficient homes, however, would avoid much higher power bills since the increases would be on the base rate rather than on their actual power usage.
Arguments could be made both ways, but what is clear, is that the talks about rate increases – in whatever form – should have happened sooner rather than later. Maybe, oh just a shot in the dark here, but maybe when the overall budgets were approved, not months later and just a week and a half before they are set to go into effect.