OTEC equality

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board September 28, 2011 05:42 pm

There’s no way to sugarcoat the rate hikes that Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative announced last week.

But though we can’t sweeten the reality that, starting Saturday, we’ll pay more for a product none of us can do without, we can say this: OTEC’s board of directors made this ordeal less sour, for many of us, than it could have been.

Before we explain how, let’s deal with one major issue.

OTEC had to charge its customers more.

The cooperative, which has about 22,500 customers in Baker, Union, Harney and Grant counties, doesn’t produce its own power.

Instead, OTEC buys electricity from the Bonneville Power Administration, a federal agency that sells power generated at 31 dams, one nuclear plant in Washington, and several wind farms.

Earlier this year, BPA announced that it would raise its wholesale rates starting Oct. 1. BPA officials said the increase is necessary to cover repairs at the nuclear plant, improvements to several dams, and the ongoing effort to restore salmon and steelhead runs in the Columbia River system.

This summer BPA said the average rate hike would be 7.8 percent.

But BPA’s increase to OTEC is higher than average — 11.43 percent.

BPA charges a higher rate for customers, like OTEC, that have peak power appetites in summer and winter,  said Angela Perez, OTEC’s communications/government relations specialist.

OTEC’s board could have decided to simply boost its rates to cover the entire BPA increase.

But that would have had a disproportionate effect on customers, many of them with low or fixed incomes, who live in homes with substandard insulation and outdated electric furnaces that gobble kilowatts.

To spread the effects more equitably, OTEC also boosted its monthly delivery charge — basically, the cost to bring power to your home — from $15 to $18. Everyone pays that same fee, regardless of how much power they use.

By doing so, OTEC minimized its power rate hike and, we hope, saved some of its customers from an unpleasantly chilly winter ahead.