Orcas Power & Light Cooperative members noticed their energy bills looked a bit different in January.
This is partially due to a 4% rate increase that was approved last November and enacted with the first billing cycle of 2022. Krista Bouchey, Assistant Manager of Communications at OPALCO, said there are numerous reasons for the rise. The December cold snap, for example, caused January to be the highest-priced month in years.
“OPALCO is an electric cooperative, so any cost that we get, we have to give out to the people that we serve power to,” Bouchey said. “Our power provider, Bonneville Power, charged us a big demand charge, which is common during these cold-weather events. But this time, it was double what we’ve ever seen before.”
The Bonneville Power fees totaled approximately $300,000.
Bouchey added that every bill includes an adjustment reflecting high-demand charges from Bonneville Power. The fee is notated in a separate line on the bill under ECA as credit, which helps to end the year without surplus or shortfall in revenues.
Bouchey explained that the high demand expense made the rate increase appear to be a lot more costly than it actually is.
“For the average usage in San Juan County that equates to about a $4 increase. The 4% rate increase wasn’t what was driving those costs, but rather the overall increased energy usage. For most people, their February bill should have gone back to normal,” she said.
Additional costs include the co-op usage of equity to borrow federal funds for major capital projects, like submarine cable replacements. This project is scheduled to occur over the next 10-20 years.
According to an OPALCO press release, prices were not increased in 2021 due to the pandemic. Now, the organization is attempting to make up for inflation, the rising cost of power and labor and to manage the co-op’s equity position.
The press release also states that starting in 2022, members may notice a $2 convenience fee for credit card transactions, which will help lower operating costs and keep rates down.
The Journal reached out to locals for their input on the situation. San Juan Island resident Heather Lee shared her thoughts.
“I used to drive by people’s lights, Christmas lights, etc…and admire them,” she said. “Now, I just wonder how they can afford to leave them on.”
For those concerned about the rate change, questions and complaints can be submitted at https://www.opalco.com/opalco-community/share-your-feedback/ More information on the 2022 rate increase can be found at https://www.opalco.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/11/OPALCO-2022-Budget-Report.pdf
“We understand that it can be terrible to see your power bill go up,” said Bouchey. “So, we want to let people have a spot to complain.”