The Oregon Public Utility Commissioners recently approved a general rate increase for all Portland General Electric customers, with residential customers seeing the biggest increase of 17.2% on their bills. Commercial customers are expected to see a 15.9% bump and industrial customers could see an 11% increase.
Brett Sims, PGE’s vice president of energy supply and regulatory affairs, said the rate increases will take effect Jan. 1 and are due to power costs, operation and maintenance costs and grid upgrades.
“PGE is pursuing a significant transformation of our energy system as we move toward more clean and carbon free resources and really, a more interactive and resilient electric grid,” he said.
Over the last couple of years, Sims said, the company has made investments to keep its electric system “safe, reliable and secure” while also building grid resiliency. But materials, supplies and labor have increased due to inflation, which he said is the main reason why there is a big increase in power costs.
“Prices have gone up for everything,” he said. “So when we buy in the energy market, those costs affect our total cost to serve our customers and I think our customers see that.”
Portland General Electric’s rate increase is the company’s largest in more than 20 years. According to Sims, the company has heavily invested in renewable energy to reduce fossil fuel emissions and decrease costs for customers.
But Sims said PGE customers could still see another increase, related to wildfire mitigation costs, before the end of the year if state regulators approve them.
Sims said for now the company has decided to share only what has been approved by the state Public Utilities Commission and wants to avoid speculation about price impacts that have not been finalized.
Bob Jenks, the executive director for Oregon’s Citizens Utility Board, an organization that advocates for customers in the state, said in a press release it is “absurd” PGE has not provided their customers an estimate of how much their bills will increase.
Jenks said the company needs to be transparent about what that could be so customers are prepared.
“PGE has a projection of the January increase,” he said to OPB. “We understand that it is subject to change, and not all elements are completed, but it is still the best estimate that exists and should not be considered confidential.”
This increase will have a significant impact for low-income households that may already have a difficult time paying their energy bills, said Benedikt Springer, a utility policy analyst with the nonprofit Community Action Partnership of Oregon.
“If you are right at the poverty line and you’re already spending 10% of your income on your monthly electricity bills, if that increases, you have a real problem,” he said. “There’s plenty of research showing that people make tradeoffs between spending money on food and spending money on health and spending money on utilities.”
That could lead to a lot more households falling behind and not making payments or having their power turned off, Springer said.
One of the ways to help alleviate some of the pressure for low-income households as increases continue, Springer said, are discount programs.
According to Sims, PGE offers discounts for low- to moderate-income households. The company also offers energy efficient incentive programs through partnerships with Energy Trust of Oregon.
Sims said the company also has an income qualified bill discount program that could offer up to a 25% reduction of energy bills to qualified households. So far, about 63,000 PGE customers have enrolled in the program and he expects it to double in the next couple of years.
According to the Oregon Public Utilities Commission, the final rate increase determination will be announced next month.