Utility provider PacifiCorp has proposed a 6.8% increase in its rates. In Oregon, that means Pacific Power customers could see their electric bills go up next year.
The agency responsible for overseeing utility costs in the state, the Oregon Public Utility Commission, is hosting a virtual public comment hearing Tuesday.
“Technically your utilities are a monopoly,” commission spokesperson Kandi Young said. “When you move into a home, you don’t have a choice of what electric service provider you get or what natural gas provider you get. The Public Utility Commission is that protector of the customer in ensuring that you’re getting safe, reliable service at a reasonable rate.”
The hearing is part of a nearly year-long review of the rate increase proposal. The Oregon Citizens’ Utility Board, the Alliance of Western Energy Consumers and other agencies will aid in the investigation on behalf of customers.
Citizens Utility Board president Bob Jenks said the public hearing is part of the review process. Comments will be taken into consideration by the board when they decide whether to grant the PacifiCorp request.
“This is a chance for customers to come in and weigh in on whether they think that’s justified or not,” Jenks said.
PacifiCorp, which is owned by multinational conglomerate holding company Berkshire Hathaway, identified several factors driving the rate increase. These included a plan to close coal plants and transition to more renewable sources of energy, particularly the TB Flats wind energy project. PacifiCorp also pointed to increased costs associated with its vegetation management programs and expansion of its wildfire mitigation programs, as well as inflation and changes to its capital structures.
But Jenks said the utility board is not convinced that all the reasons for the increase are justified.
“Raising rates on Oregonians to send more money to Berkshire, we don’t think has any justification right now, particularly in the context of this kind of big rate hike being proposed,” Jenks said.
The proposed increase would have consumers paying about $84.4 million more. The rate increase would impact customer rates differently depending on usage and customer type: residential, business, or industrial customers. For example, a residential customer, using the average amount of energy for a single-family home currently has a bill of a little less than $100. They would see around $13 added to their monthly bill.
Tuesday’s meeting starts at 6 p.m. The investigation concludes in December when the commissioners rule on the request. New rates, if approved, are expected to go into effect on Jan. 1.