Includes 3.75% average increase for ratepayers
The Okanogan County Public Utility District (PUD) commissioners have adopted a $69.5-million budget for 2023, which includes an average 3.75% increase for ratepayers. The commissioners approved the budget on Nov. 14.
The PUD expects $69.5 million in revenue, including $54 million from retail electric sales and $3.2 million from wholesale sales.
The PUD anticipates $3.3 million in revenue from broadband sales to internet service providers, which then sell internet hook-ups to retail customers.
The PUD currently has 90 full-time employees, with one vacant position and four new positions — a safety coordinator, broadband analyst, mechanic, and accounting technician. The budget includes $11 million in wages and $5.1 million in benefits.
The PUD will pay $4.1 million in debt service on existing bonds that fund major infrastructure projects. The budget anticipates a return on investments of between 2% and 2.5%.
The largest capital outlay is $5 million to rebuild the Tonasket substation. The majority of work on the substation is expected to be completed in 2023. Almost every substation in the PUD’s network has had necessary upgrades over the past few years and this is the last major rebuild, Public Relations Coordinator Sheila Corson said.
There is $350,000 for design on the Loup Loup transmission line, which serves the Methow Valley (including the Okanogan County Electric Co-operative). The design will determine necessary upgrades and replacements on the line, the oldest in the PUD’s network.
Some of the Loup Loup line burned in the 2014 Carlton Complex Fire, so those poles and wires were replaced, but others are 50 to 60 years old. The average power pole costs $3,500, according to the PUD.
Upgrading the Loup Loup line is the next big project after the Tonasket substation, most likely within the next five years, Corson said. Methow Valley customers are also served by the new Pateros-Twisp powerline.
The budget includes $2 million for transformer purchases, $1.89 million for vehicles, and $500,000 for Enloe Dam.
The PUD aims to cover basic maintenance and upgrades with regular income, and to issue bonds only for major capital projects such as transmission line and substation rebuilds, Corson said. The PUD will pay $4.1 million to service debt on bonds next year.
Rates rise April
The budget includes a 3.75% average rate increase effective April 1, 2023, with the largest hike for residential ratepayers. The PUD commissioners approved the new rates on Monday (Nov. 28).
Residential ratepayers will pay 5.1% more for power. Their basic monthly charge will be $42, up from $39.95. The new rates are 5.824 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) for the first 2,000 kWh, and 6.989 cents for any use above 2,000 kWh. Average monthly usage is 1,400 kWh, according to the PUD.
Residential customers are the only ones charged a higher rate when they use more power. The PUD is gradually phasing out the two-tiered kWh charges.
Small general-service customers (most commercial accounts) will pay a basic charge of $49.30, plus 6.358 cents per kWh, a 3.25% increase.
The second-highest increase is for frost control, which is going up 5%. Frost-control customers are typically orchards with wind machines to circulate warm air to protect blossoms.
Large general service, industrial, and area and street lighting customers will see a 1.25% increase. Irrigation accounts will pay 2.5% more starting in April.
Commercial and industrial customers also pay a demand charge, based on the maximum kilowatt use in any 15-minute period.
The electric rates include a brand-new schedule for Level 3 fast chargers for electrical vehicles. The rates apply only to commercial locations that charge a fee to people who plug in their vehicles for charging. The basic monthly rate will be $97.60, with a 4.317-cent charge per kWh.
This is a new customer type for the PUD, since these customers are basically buying power and then reselling it, Corson said. Before the PUD developed this new schedule, their general provisions didn’t allow the resale of electricity, she said.
Any business or residence installing a fast charger has to check with the PUD to be sure the transformer and other equipment are appropriate and can handle the demand. Otherwise, it could blow the transformer, causing an outage for the other connections, Corson said. People should not assume that the installer of a charging station will have checked with the PUD, she said.
People charging electric vehicles at home will most likely plug the car into a regular charger and charge it overnight, where demand won’t be an issue.
People can learn more about the history of the PUD and public power utilities — and the process the PUD uses to set rates — through four videos on the PUD’s website at https://www.okanoganpud.org/budget.