Grant PUD rates to remain unchanged in 2019

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EPHRATA — Electric rates for Grant County PUD customers, except those in the new Class 17, will remain unchanged for 2019. Utility district commissioners voted 5-0 to leave rates alone at the regular commission meeting Tuesday.

Rates are scheduled to go into effect - or in this case, stay where they are - on April 1.

Class 17, called “evolving industries,” was approved by commissioners in August 2018, to go into effect in April. Rates for Class 17 were set in August. Rates are scheduled to be phased in over three years. Among businesses slated to be affected by Class 17 were cryptocurrency companies, and eight companies and one individual filed suit in federal court in December, asking to have Class 17 eliminated and seeking damages.

The resolution approved by the commissioners acknowledged that it didn’t fit into the resolution governing rate-setting policy. The rate resolution said it was a one-time exception, “until (the rate resolution is) rescinded or modified by the commission.”

The resolution is being reviewed as part of a comprehensive study of PUD rates, including the actual cost of providing service to different classes. Commissioner Larry Schaapman said the commission wanted to see the results of those studies before deciding how to proceed.

The PUD has conducted multiple studies of the cost of providing service, and has a policy that mandates periodic updates. The PUD hired a new consultant to conduct the 2019 study and Schaapman said he, for one, wanted time to review its conclusions.

Two new commissioners were elected in November, and Schaapman said they want to become more familiar with the PUD before making decisions. “Put it (rates) on pause for the year, get some folks up to speed,” Schaapman said.

The current rate resolution sets a lower and upper limit for rates. All customer classes must pay at least 80 percent of the cost of their service, and a maximum of 15 percent more than the cost of service by 2024. Schaapman said he thinks that resolution has value, for the commission and for customers, and he is reluctant to get rid of it.

Earlier service cost studies have shown some gaps, with some classes paying less than the 80 percent and some classes paying more than the 15 percent. Commissioners had considered a proposal for a one-percent increase across the board, but Schaapman said he was concerned that an across-the-board increase would widen that gap.

Commissioner Tom Flint said he has some concerns about the policy as it’s currently written, and that it needs a review. He said he was okay with a one-year pause in rate policy, while the new commissioners get more familiar with the PUD and while the rate study is conducted.

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