By Ann McCreary

Only two members showed up for a meeting Monday (Aug. 7) to discuss a planned rate increase by Okanogan County Electric Cooperative (OCEC), and one of them was married to an OCEC board member.

The OCEC board is proposing a rate increase that averages about 3 percent for most users in 2018 and 2019, said Curtis Edwards, OCEC board president.

The increase is needed because the Bonneville Power Authority (BPA) has announced an increase of almost 8 percent in the price of power it sells to OCEC and other utilities. That increase goes into effect in October.

“We’ve faced similar increases in the past few years and we’ve been able to absorb them” by reducing operational costs, Edwards said. “This time we’re not able to absorb it.”

About half of OCEC’s budget goes to purchasing power from BPA, Edwards said at the meeting held at the Winthrop Barn.

In 2018, the rate increase will average about 3 percent among all members, but some will pay slightly more than that and some low-end users, those who use less than 1,200 kilowatt-hours per month, will see a decrease.

That’s because OCEC is also making a cost-of-service adjustment next year that is designed to make the rates paid by different service classes more fair, Edwards said.

In 2019 the increase will be more uniform among the service classes, which are categorized by the amount of electricity they consume.

The proposed rate increase affects only the kilowatt-hour portion of members’ bills, not the fixed base rate charge.

OCEC members can see what the impact of the rate increase will mean to them by using a rate calculator on the OCEC website, at www.mymethow.info/getmybill2018.php.

David Gottula, OCEC general manager, said the apparent lack of concern among members is probably because the increase is understood to be region-wide and resulting from BPA’s increase. He said the Okanogan Public Utility District has also announced plans to increase rates.

“It’s been pretty well telegraphed that Bonneville is raising its rates,” he said.

The OCEC board expects to vote on the rate increase in September, and it would become effective in January. Members would see it reflected in their February bills.

The last OCEC rate adjustment was last year and was “revenue neutral,” meaning it did not create additional revenue for OCEC, said Gottula.

Although the cost of power purchased from BPA has increased almost 21 percent since 2011, OCEC has reduced its operating costs significantly, including reducing staff by three people over that period, Gottula said.

About 30 percent of the BPA’s budget, and about 15 percent of OCEC members’ bills, are linked to salmon habitat restoration, Gottula said.