A possible 6 percent rate increase is on the table to balance a $3 million deficit in Lewis County PUD 1’s preliminary $88 million 2020 budget, PUD General Manager Chris Roden told The Chronicle this week.
The PUD’s board of commissioners held its first public hearing on the proposed budget Tuesday during its regularly scheduled meeting. A second public hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 17.
As of this draft of the budget, total expenditures are projected at about $88.2 million, with projected revenue at about $85.2 million for 2020, including both the electric system and the county’s Cowlitz Falls hydroelectric facility, according to the PUD.
Most of the PUD’s expenses are driven by its largest power provider — the Bonneville Power Administration, Roden said. When Bonneville’s rates go up, the PUD’s expenses also rise.
“Roughly 2/3 of our budget is driven by Bonneville,” he said.
The PUD has no significant capital projects in its three-year-operating plan, but PUD staff at Tuesday’s meeting cautioned that many of the utility’s substations will need upgrades in the near future.
Large capital expenses, such as upgrades to its buildings or substations, will likely require going into debt, Roden said.
On the revenue side, most of the PUD’s income comes from electricity customers, Roden said. The PUD relies on growth in power usage to keep rates low, but does not have infinite capacity to provide power.
Roden suggested alternative revenue streams, including fiber optic lines.
“We’d like to see that growing over time,” he said.
Tuesday’s budget presentation didn’t discuss rates explicitly, but Roden said the board would need to discuss rate increases in the near future to deal not only with the projected 2020 shortfall, but increased shortfalls in 2021 and 2022, expected to be $4.1 million and $6.2 million, respectively.
“The budget and rates are very much aligned,” he said “So it’s important to us to be transparent in the process.”
The utility would need to raise rates by 1 percent to offset $500,000 of its shortfall, meaning if it dealt with the shortfall with rates alone, customers could expect a 6 percent increase, Roden said.
The topic will likely come up at the Sept. 17 hearing, he said.
Roden said he anticipates the budget will be passed before Oct. 1, marking a shift in strategy from last year, in which the budget was passed at the absolute last minute in late December.
To accomplish that, the PUD began drafting its 2020 budget and three-year operating plan in April.
For more information about the PUD’s preliminary budget and future hearings, go to https://www.lcpud.org/budget/.