Clark Public Utilities Faces
by Courtney Sherwood
Vancouver, Wash. -- The Pacific Northwest's 60-year hold on cheap electricity is under threat. Starting next year and continuing through 2020, customers of Clark Public Utilities will share a growing burden with their neighbors across Oregon and Washington -- a burden that they helped create at the ballot box and that has been compounded by salmon recovery efforts, population growth and climbing commodity costs.
Just how much rates will rise beyond the single-digit increase likely next year is too complex to estimate this early in the game, Clark officials say. Here's what we know so far:
"Rate stability is one of our goals," said Mick Shutt, spokesman. "But there comes a time when you can't stop rates from going up."
Change in course
The coming rate hikes mark a startling change for Clark Public Utilities, which was founded by a 1938 vote to bring cheap electricity to Clark County.
For more than 30 years power costs hovered near 1 cent per kilowatt hour -- a typical modern household, using 1,500 kilowatt-hours per month, would spend $15 a month at that rate.
That cheap power created an energy hungry economy in the region, drawing aluminum smelters early on and semiconductor manufacturers as the century progressed.
Beginning in the 1980s rates began to tick up more rapidly. And the power crisis of 2000 and 2001 hit Clark Public Utilities hard, pushing rates from about 4.2 cents per kilowatt hour in the mid-1990s to 7.36 cents per hour today. That 1,500 kilowatt-hour monthly bill would now add up to $117.
Electricity costs across the region have likewise climbed, chasing away the aluminum industry and its thousands of jobs.
learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs