The State of Oregon & The Federal Hydroelectric System

The December and January ice storms may have passed, but they left behind high electricity bills due to cold weather. Several members have called us to check and see if, indeed, they used that much electricity in December and January?!

What we found in talking with members was that heating with electric resistance—those glowing coils in portable or built-in heaters—drove electricity use higher. Trying to keep a home warm with outside temperatures persistently below freezing understandably made recent bills unusually high. When you have concerns or questions about your bill, please give us a call. We’re here to help you use electricity efficiently to help keep your electric bills affordable.

In fact, a key part of Lane Electric’s mission statement is “economical” rates. We live that mission. For example, we’ve done belt-tightening to live within our means when warm weather kept electric bills low and undercut our budget for system improvements.

We also actively engage our wholesale power provider, the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), to minimize unsustainable cost increases that have out-paced inflation—28% over the last 6 years. Yet again, BPA is proposing an increase this year: a 2.3% increase for wholesale power and an average 1.1% increase for transmission. They’re also proposing a plan to build-up emergency reserve funds that would effectively ensure that our wholesale power rate would increase at least 3% for several years. We’re advocating against BPA’s plan through our generation and transmission co-op, PNGC Power, and in partnership with the region-wide Public Power Council. The outcome threatens to raise your electric bill and we take that to heart when we advocate for reasonable and justified rates.

Another factor that threatens to increase your electric bill is the outcome of the State of Oregon’s recent legal action against the federal hydroelectric system. Oregon is asking a federal court in Portland to mandate spilling reservoir water over eight federal dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers to increase survival of the threatened and endangered fish species passing through the dams. However, survival rates for juvenile spring Chinook passing through these dams is already over 95%. All four northwest states have thoroughly debated the issue in a collaborative process, and Washington, Montana, and Idaho oppose the idea. The federal website tells the story.

What does Oregon’s legal action mean for your electric bill if it’s successful? Another 2% BPA rate increase. Spilling that much stored water means losing an estimated $40 million dollars of stored clean energy. It also means adding carbon to Oregon’s power supply mix because mandating more spill means BPA would need replace clean, reliable hydropower with a reliable carbon-based resource. Meanwhile, the Oregon Global Warming Commission recently concluded that Oregon is already unlikely to meet its carbon reduction goals!

As I’ve said at past annual district meetings, the benefit of hydropower comes with the responsibility for mitigating its impacts on protected fish species. Over 25% of your power cost supports fish species recovery, totaling over $15 billion for the last 40 years. Now Oregon wants you to pay more for an experiment that couldn’t gain regional consensus. Sometimes it seems like the Affordable Electric Bill needs protection as a threatened species!