With a final vote on three years of Turlock Irrigation District electric rate increases looming, TID ratepayers had one final chance Tuesday to offer input on the measure in advance of a Dec. 6 vote.
For a residential household using 1,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month, the proposed increase – 4 percent per year for the next three years – would amount to an additional $4 per month in 2012, a further $5 per month in 2013, and an additional $5 per month in 2014. The exact effects of the increase will differ for each consumer, varying based on energy usage and ratepayer category – like farm or commercial.
The increase will be tabbed an “Environmental Charge” on ratepayers’ bills, intended to convey the cost to consumers of meeting government renewable energy mandates – the driver behind the rate increase. The district will begin making principal payments on the $427 million Tuolumne Wind Project, a 136.6 megawatt wind power plant in Klickitat County, Wash., next year.
The district last increased rates in 2009, when electric costs went up 15 percent system wide. The proposed increase would raise rates a similar amount, but spread over three years, with TID using money from its Rate Stabilization Fund to allow for a more gradual rate increase.
The structure of the increase was driven by comments received through a series of public meetings, TID staff said.
“Many customers mentioned the difficult economy, and the need to keep the rate increase as low as possible,” said Chris Poley, TID utility rate analyst.
In 2014, the Environmental Charge will amount to 2.69 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s still less than the true, 2.85 cent per kilowatt-hour cost to the district of addressing environmental laws.
Rate increase still rough, ratepayer says
While the district worked to make the rate increase as gentle as possible, it still will have an effect on ratepayers, said TID customer David Hollinger. He and his wife are seniors on Social Security, he said, with little way to pay for the rate increase.
“We don’t have increases of 4 percent per year through Social Security,” Hollinger said. “Some of us just don’t have the opportunity or the availability to give that little bit more.”
Hollinger asked the board to review the cutoffs for its TID Cares low-income assistance program, currently set at an annual income of $22,065 for a household of one or two, $27,795 for a household of three, and $33,525 for a home of four people. By comparison, for Pacific Gas and Electric’s rate assistance program income cutoffs begin at $31,800 for a home of 1-2, and sit at $45,100 for a household of four.
According to TID spokesman Herb Smart, the district currently sets those cutoffs to match 150 percent of the U.S. Department of Human and Health Services’ poverty guidelines, updated annually. That decision is a policy matter, though, as California Public Utility Code requires utilities to provide low income assistance but does not mandate the amount of assistance or the program structure.
Board President Michael Frantz and Directors Rob Santos and Joe Alamo all said they would consider reviewing the TID Cares income thresholds.
Outside of Hollinger’s comment, only three other members of the public spoke on the rate increase Tuesday.
Martin Pohl, a farmer and president of Hughson Nut Growers, LLC, lauded the district for its past help in energy audits to improve his plant’s efficiency, and asked the district to work with neighboring utilities to save money.
Tracy Sunday, a Turlocker with a solar system, asked if the environmental charge would apply to his rates; TID staff said the charge would only affect energy he purchased from the district, a small figure considering his generation.
The relative lack of comment can be explained by lack of public knowledge of the potential rate increase, said final commenter Mary Jackson, a Turlock City Council member who said Tuesday she was speaking only as a citizen and TID ratepayer.
According to Jackson, several of her neighbors had no idea the increase was pending. She said that was due, in part, to the Tuesday morning timing of TID meetings, and the lack of transparency to working ratepayers.
”I think it’s very difficult for people to attend your meetings to voice their opinions,” Jackson said, advocating for a shift to evening meetings. “... If I have to come here at 9 a.m. every Tuesday until it happens, I will do that.”
A series of public meetings to discuss the proposed rate increase was held in Ceres, Turlock, and Patterson in the run up to Tuesday’s meeting, Poley noted. Those meetings occurred in the evening, he said, giving the working community a chance to comment.
According to Frantz, evening meetings have been discussed by the TID board in the past. But throughout his tenure in office, only two individuals – Jackson and former Turlock City Council Candidate David “DJ” Fransen – requested evening meetings.
Frantz said the idea warranted further consideration, but also demanded a cost-benefit analysis; night meetings would require paying TID staff who attend the meetings overtime.
Frantz new Board President
Just days after winning his second term in office, Director Michael Frantz was elected to serve as Turlock Irrigation District Board of Directors President by his peers Tuesday morning.
Frantz’s term will last for two years, at which point another director will be appointed president, per the board’s policy of rotating leadership. He will replace Santos, who will resume his role as a regular board member.
Director Ron Macedo will assume the role of Vice President for that term, replacing Director Charles Fernandez.
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