Washington power rates to increase 5.7 percent in July|Council rejects suggestion for 6.7 percent jump

Published 2:11 am Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Contributing Editor

During the Washington City Council meeting Monday, the question wasn’t if Washington Electric Utilities’ retail rates would increase, but by how much.
When the sparks settled, the council voted to increase the rate by 5.7 percent instead of the staff’s recommendation of 6.7 percent. The new rate is effective for billing on July 1. Other suggested increases included Mayor Pro Tempore Doug Mercer’s 4 percent bump, Councilman Archie Jennings’ 5.5 percent hike and Councilman Darwin Woolard’s 6 percent rise. Those proffers failed.
Woolard’s other suggestion of a 5.7 percent increase with the promise of not raising rates again this calendar year won approval with a 3-2 vote. Woolard, Jennings and Councilman Richard Brooks voted for the measure, with Mercer and Councilman Gil Davis opposing it.
Mercer disputed the need for a 6.7 percent increase, saying a smaller increase would be enough to recoup the increase in wholesale power costs the city was hit with in February.
In January, the council delayed increasing retail rates until July 1, although WEU’s cost to buy power increased in February. Citing the sagging economy, the council said it wanted to delay increasing electric rates as long as it was feasible.
Earlier this month, the council authorized a study to help it evaluate electric-rate classifications.
The council believes some Washington Electric Utilities customers are paying too much of the city’s power costs while others are paying too little. That study is expected to be completed in September.
The goal of the rate study would be to provide an equitable distribution of costs to provide power to all of WEU’s customers, city officials said.
Jennings warned his colleagues and Mayor Judy Meier Jennette that “you don’t want to get to September and raise (rates) again” because they were not increased enough in June.
Mercer said the council and mayor would “get negative press, no matter what we do.” He also said he was willing to support an increase of up to 5 percent, but no higher.
The last increase in retail rates came last summer when the council increased them by 1.189 cents per kilowatt hour.