Political Buzz

Talking WA politics.

NOTICE: Political Buzz has moved.

With the launch of our new website, we've moved Political Buzz.
Visit the new section.

TPU: Double-digit rate hikes for water, power may be coming

Post by Lewis Kamb / The News Tribune on Aug. 20, 2010 at 4:41 pm with 21 Comments »
August 20, 2010 4:48 pm

Tacoma water and power customers may soon face double-digit rate hikes, as Tacoma Public Utilities officials grapple with covering some big-ticket capital expenses in TPU’s coming two-year budget, utilities officials told me this week.

Specifics about how much exactly any prospective rate increases will be are still being worked out, as TPU prepares budget proposals to bring before the utilities board next month.

“We take any rate increase seriously,” TPU director Bill Gaines told me Thursday. “Part of our philosophy is to keep rates as low as possible.”

I met this week with Gaines and other TPU officials, at his invitation, to discuss ongoing and pending capital projects and how they fit in with the budget.

During a similar briefing he gave the Tacoma City Council earlier this year, Gaines told council members he expected rate increases to remain in the single digits. When I asked Gaines Thursday if that remains to be the case, he responded: “That’s looking increasingly difficult to do that.”

Gaines and other utility officials said Thursday they do not take rate increases lightly. They added costs for many of the forthcoming capital projects are unavoidable — coming via federal mandates or due to other requirements.

“And as for our controllable costs,” Gaines said, “we’re tying to keep those down as low as possible.”

City Councilman Ryan Mello told me Friday he’s not surprised.

“I feel like that’s how they’ve been hedging themselves,” Mello said. “I have not heard a firm number, though I’ve been trying hard to get one. But I won’t be surprised when they come before us, asking for double digit rate increases.”

Mello added TPU will have to prove to the council such rate increases are necessary.

“They will need to clearly justify the need, especially during these tough economic times,” Mello said.

Tacoma’s water and power rates remain among the lowest in the region, TPU officials have stressed. The average monthly household electric bill now runs about $104, with the average monthly water bill about $28.

We’ll have more details in a story in The News Tribune this weekend.

Leave a comment Comments → 21
  1. vorladyrader says:

    $104 a month??? What planet do the TPU executives live on? What are they using for their standard, a small studio apartment? We don’t heat with electricity, don’t have an air conditioner and have power saving bulbs in all our lights. The only electricity we use is for 2 occasional space heaters, computer, stereo, fridge and washer/dryer. We heat with gas, our stove is gas and so is our water heater. We pay, on average $250-$300 a month. We don’t water our lawn and use water saving devices elsewhere. We pay $34-$40 month for our water. Cheap? Try again guys. Look at the real world for a change. The economy is bad, many people don’t have jobs, and you want to raise the costs just before winter. How humanitarian.

  2. “They [sic] added costs for many of the forthcoming capital projects are unavoidable — coming via federal mandates or due to other requirements.”

    These are artificial increases imposed by an out of touch government, pandering to a misinformed minority.

    Meanwhile the damage caused to poor and middle-class families is all too real. Way to stick it to the poor again, Democrats! This takes scarce money right out of pockets and off of dinner tables, and for what? You’re going to “save” the planet by hurting poor families? You’re going to save the “climate” by adding even more strain on already weakened economy? Your priorities are truly insane. You are a cruel breed of psychos, addle-brained by drug use and greed. Your policies will fail, as they always do, leaving a wake of poverty behind them.

  3. A big chunk of these rate increases are for the idiotic referendums the voters passed a few years back that requires a certain percentage of our power to be “green”. Those same referendums didn’t credit hydroelectric power because it’s too easy for us.

    When your electorate is full of idiots, you get what you deserve. I guarantee the loudest complainers with this rate increase voted for “green” energy.

  4. DrWernerKlopek says:

    Awhile back Tacoma Power settled a billion dollar lawsuit with some tribes. A Payoff really. Guess where they expect to get their money to pay? That’s right from the rate payers. “We would really like to keep rates low but we had to write some blanks checks and we could use some more $ so they don’t bounce.”

  5. Hold it. What were all the bonds they just sold for? Capital improvements. At the time, the council was asking softball questions but were just told not to worry. Something stinks and its not the water.

  6. rockrabbit says:

    Tacoma still has incredibly cheap power compared to other parts of the country, and the utility should encourage conservation as a way to avoid having to invest in new generation sources to meet future load growth. Sending a stronger price signal to users is part of that. Same goes for water.

  7. “$104 a month??? What planet do the TPU executives live on? What are they using for their standard, a small studio apartment?”

    Those space heaters suck up the electricity. They probably cost you about 10 cents an hour for each one to run. If they run 12 hours a day, that’s about 36 bucks for each heater you run per month.

    My electric bill runs about 60 bucks per month for two people. We only use gas to heat the house.

    Water bill runs about 7 bucks plus15.33 bucks for their service charge a month in Winter, about 32 bucks a month in Summer plus the 15.33 dollar service charge.

    So it’s not the charge for a cubic foot of water that’s expensive. It’s the 15.33 dollar a month service charge.

    This of course doesn’t include the surface water charge and sewer charge.

  8. “A Payoff really. ”

    I have to laugh when I see folks complaining about the government taking property for individuals, but they have no problem taking property from the tribes.

    Anyhow the deal was good for everyone. The tribe gets something, and the ratepayers get cheap electricity.

    The federal mandate for cleaner water is in part driving the rate increase for water. I don’t think Tacoma’s water is bad enough to require the additional, expensive filtration, but others feel otherwise.

  9. IKnowMoreThanYou says:

    vorladyrader- perhaps you should realize that IF you’re actually paying that much per month ($700 every time your bill arrives) you should look into changing your ways. Perhaps…don’t use a space heater from the 70’s to heat your home?

  10. Hey fatuous you are so lucky to have gas and I am sure everyone who is forced to use space heaters wish they had gas also and appreciate your advise.. My nonprofit has over 80 properties where we pay the utilitites and I cannot find one home that hits the $104 average. I guess the bottom line is how much more increases can the working poor take during a given time period. Please Councilman Mello stand firm and watch out for the Average citizen. I remember the Sprinkler ring was to cost $31 million, then it was brought down to $6 million, and now just for right now the roof is okay for another winter.

  11. IKnowMoreThanYou says:

    I gotta ask about those that use space heaters still, and I’m not trying to be a jerk. Is it not possible to save up and get gas run to your house ($1200 or so) and get an alternative heat source? I’m sure if you’re that financially strained, there are rebates up the wazoo for an energy switch like that. If not, the oil filled electric heaters use much less electricity than old school heaters and actually shut off if you set the thermostat.

    Also, capitalizing “Average” and calling it a “ring” lost all credibility in your post…just so ya know.

  12. quiltnsuzy says:

    I have a townhouse condo, which granted automatically gives me more insulation than a free standing house but is bigger than a studio apartment, and it is all electric. My total electric, water and sewer bill comes to just under $60 a month on the budget plan. If anyone isn’t using the budget plan they should- you know how much the bill is going to be every month so there are no surprises. @vorladyrader- could someone be stealing electricity off your line? You should get an energy audit to see what is sucking up the electricity.

  13. @vorladyrader you could also buy a Kill-A-Watt meter for about $25 from Harbor Frieght or Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Kill-a-Watt-Meter/dp/B001JHGY2Q and go room to room. Plug in the various appliances and see what is using all the juice. Big Flat Screen? Electric appliances? Ai Purifier? then you can begin to remove those items from the outlet when not in use. Your bill will come down.

  14. shaboo999 says:

    OK. Hide and duck…I’m getting my rant on,

    Well, we are what my dad used to call, “watt watchers”…lol. Anyway, we heat our home (electric) sparsely and only as needed, lights are low to non existant (night lights and candles at night, or energy saving lightbulbs on dimmer switches) we dress for the “weather”, ie, the temp indoors. No, we don’t dress like Nanook, but sweaters and socks/slippers, etc.) We do not heat our upstairs at all, as heat rises, no need. So, y’know, we try to do “our part” for energy conservation, and keeping the bill down. So…

    I just got my bill from the period of 6-18 through 8-17. My “energy use”, ie, electric bill usage was $39.16 for two months. BUT! For this billing period, I got charged $39.03 for a deliver charge for the electricity (What is that?) PLUS $11.00 for a customer charge for the electricity (What is that?) So, I used $39.16 worth of electricity and am being charged $89.19 in total for additional delivery and customers charges. What’s up with that?

    ALSO, my water comsumption for this billing period was $12.05. My “customer charge” for using this paltry sum of water was $30.66, for a grand total of $42.71.

    What gives?

    We also wonder why, when we use $12.05 of water comsumption, we are charged this billing period $53.51 for wastewater???

    (Wastewater, as the City has explained it to me, is toilet flushes, bathwater, dish water, laundry, all the water you use in your house that runs down the drains.) Why am I spending $53.51 to get rid of $12.05 worth of wastewater?

    And guess what, that doesn’t count the surface water (water that runs off of your property, like when it rains, your garden watering runoff, etc., based on lot size, it is allegedly a fixed rate based on square footage, or lot size.) Based our lot size, we paid $ 35.62 this billing period.

    Perhaps the City is breaking down the costs inaccurately? One would think that reading your billing statement would reflect accurate charges incurred.

    None of it makes sense to us, and now their going to raise it 10% PLUS? Why?

    I think someone should explain their lame billing system to make some sort of sense of it Before they raise the rates.

    PS – In our ever ongoing quest to save and conserve, this is the lowest bill we’ve had since we came here 4 1/2 years ago…

  15. I recently spent 2 weeks combing through public files related to rate increases for the past 10 years. TPU has raised the rates on EVERY Utility from water to Storm Drainage. Many times, the reasons were vague and copied the reasons from previous increases.
    TPU raises rates for one main reason. They can. Salaries for uper level management are absurdly inflated. The lobby of the headquarters building on South Union has been renovated at least 3 times in the past 10 years. They built an employee parking lot which was sorely needed, but included a skybridge so the employees can cross the street. God only knows what that cost us, the rate-payers.
    What Mr. Mello and the rest of the City Council should be asking is: What is TPU doing to trim costs? Are vehicles being used for as long as possible before replacing them? (last budget saw $11 million for vehicle replacement) Are long-term, higher salaried employees being encouraged to retire? Have they turned the AC up in the Summer and the heat down in Winter?
    These are things that WE have to do. Are THEY doing these things and more to save us from yet ANOTHER rate hike? At this pace, we soon will have the HIGHEST rates in the region.

  16. “I got charged $39.03 for a deliver charge for the electricity (What is that?)”

    They started to break out the cost to deliver electricity under the deregulation laws of 1996.

    The point being that you have the choice of buying your electricity from another provider. The problem is that electricity from other providers is more expensive then buying from the public utilities. So there is really no market for them.

  17. “My nonprofit has over 80 properties where we pay the utilitites and I cannot find one home that hits the $104 average.”

    If you are heating with baseboard heaters, then your electricity bill is going to be higher then the average.

    Just be thankful you get your electricity from Tacoma. They have the lowest electrical rate in Washington state.

  18. timeforachange says:

    go see how much upper management gets per year at tpu.. it is all public record. you will be shocked. and don’t forget you are paying for extra employee’s when the tpu and city council bought into SAP. you remember the 90 million dollar boon doggle. that was to cut jobs and streamline the system. has anyone looked lately to see how many more employee’s it actually added. public records are out their if you want to know the real truth..otherwise just keep on paying and paying and paying and paying and paying and paying and paying and paying…

  19. “go see how much upper management gets per year at tpu.. it is all public record. you will be shocked.”

    How do the TPU management salaries compare to the UW coach salaries?

    How do the TPU management salaries compare to private corporate salaries of firms that have revenue of 3.6 to 4.1 million per year?

  20. EatonvilleTaxPayer says:

    For anyone who missed the newest political blog subject….be sure to check out how “LOW ENERGY COSTS” are bringing new businesses to WA State.

    Having just read this 2 days prior, I just had to laugh. Considering the vast resources we have in this state (compared to other higher energy costs states), our electrical and water rates really aren’t that low. AND THEY ARE GOING UP! So much for bragging up low energy costs to encourage new businesses to come to WA.

    New regulations and as one comment pointed out—the new green energy requirements—are and will continue to drive up the rates. I just love when all those city folks vote for every green measure and start grumbling when it hits their pocketbooks. THINK BEFORE YOU VOTE! Everything comes at a price.

  21. There are several interesting things soon enough in it all posting but I don鈥檛 understand if I notice all of them target to heart. You will find a few validity but I’m going to bring hold opinion until I check into it further. Very nice publish , appreciate it and we would like more! Added to FeedBurner as well

We welcome comments. Please keep them civil, short and to the point. ALL CAPS, spam, obscene, profane, abusive and off topic comments will be deleted. Repeat offenders will be blocked. Thanks for taking part and abiding by these simple rules.

Follow the comments on this post with RSS 2.0