Rep. Johnson asks state to reject Pacific Power and Light rate increase
Rep. Norm Johnson says an electrical rate increase proposal by Pacific Power and Light Company would be devastating to local citizens throughout Yakima County, forcing them to further lower their thermostats, and cut back on groceries or prescription drugs.
The utility company has asked the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to approve a 4.3 percent increase, which it says is the result of expiring hydropower contracts that must be renewed at higher rates. In addition, it says higher coal costs used to fire its plants are contributing to the need for the increase. Commission staff has recommended a 1.1 percent increase, which Johnson feels is still too much given the problems with the economy.
During a public hearing today (Wednesday) in Olympia, UTC commissioners gave Johnson, R-Yakima, special permission to testify.
“Let me tell you about the area I represent that is served by Pacific Power and Light. Across the state, the total cumulative unemployment rate is 8.5 percent. In Yakima County, it is 12 percent. A rising number of discouraged workers and baby boomers being forced into early retirement caused Yakima County's labor force to decline from just over 127,000 workers to less than 123,000 between 2010 and 2011. We have 13,790 people out of work in Yakima County. That's more than the entire population of the city of Toppenish, where I served as mayor, and the city of Wapato combined,” Johnson told the commissioners. “In short, our local economy is in very difficult shape. Businesses are struggling. Many of our local citizens are just barely making it, if at all.”
Johnson said one thing businesses and families have in common and must depend upon is electricity. He told commissioners that local residents have already cut back their spending on groceries and medical bills, and have lowered their thermostats following a 12 percent rate increase approved last year. He also noted that since 2000, the UTC has approved nine separate rate increases for Pacific Power and Light.
“Our people are hurting and this economy is still very fragile. So when Pacific Power and Light comes to you to ask for a rate increase, after you already approved a staggering 12 percent rate increase last year, even 1.1 percent will be devastating to our local citizens,” said Johnson. “How much colder must our families be in their homes? What will they have to exclude from their budgets to pay for the increased power rates? Will senior citizens be forced to skip their prescription drugs?”
The 14th District lawmaker also voiced concerns that a rate increase could be the final straw for some businesses and farmers barely able to continue operations.
“Think of the jobs that will be lost if our local businesses can no longer absorb these increases,” Johnson added.
Johnson said he understands why the utility company is seeking the rate increase, but he urged commissioners to deny the request.
“It will add further injury to a wounded economy and deeply hurt the citizens I represent across the 14th Legislative District. Now is not the time to be adding costs to struggling families and businesses,” he concluded.
Pacific Power and Light has 130,000 customers in Yakima and four other counties in southeast Washington. If the rate increase is approved, it would likely take effect in May.
FOR RADIO STATIONS. . .
WASHINGTON HOUSE REPUBLICANS
RADIO FEED TRANSCRIPT
Legislator: Rep. Norm Johnson
Date: March 7, 2012
Topic: Johnson asks state to reject power rate increase request
Run Time: 71 seconds
In Olympia today, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission granted special permission to allow a state lawmaker from Yakima to testify in a rate increase request by Pacific Power and Light. John Sattgast reports from the state Capitol.
Sattgast: Representative Norm Johnson appeared before the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission to urge rejection of a 4-point-3 percent rate increase by Pacific Power and Light. The commission has recommended the increase be lowered to 1-point-1 percent, but Johnson told commissioners…
Johnson: “Even 1.1 percent will be devastating to our local citizens. How much colder must our families be in their homes? What will they have to exclude from their budgets to pay for the increased power rates? Will senior citizens be forced to skip their prescription drugs?”
Sattgast: Last year, Pacific Power increased electric rates by 12 percent. The utility says it needs the additional increase to cover higher coal costs and expiring hydropower contracts that must be renewed at higher rates. But the 14th District lawmaker said Yakima County is still reeling from 12 percent unemployment and this could force more businesses to close.
Johnson: “I think enough is enough. We have businesses struggling. We have folks struggling. We have high unemployment. This is just another hit.”
Sattgast: Pacific Power has 130 thousand customers in Yakima and four other counties in southeast Washington. It the rate increase is approved, it would likely take effect in May. John Sattgast, Olympia.
###Washington State House Republican Communications