Southern Idaho Farmers Fear They'll Go Under if Power Rates Increaseby Staff
Lewiston Tribune, March 17, 2004
POCATELLO -- Southern Idaho farmers say Idaho Power Co.'s proposed rate increase could shave their operating margin to the point of going broke.
Growers from across the region attended the Idaho Public Utilities Commission's Monday hearings in Pocatello and Jerome.
"It seems like open season on farmers. We've been farming in Idaho since the 1920s and I don't want to lose the farm my grandfather started," Matt Mickelsen of Rupert said at the Pocatello gathering.
The Boise-based company wants to increase its rates by an average of 17.7 percent to recover about $85 million of investments made in its system since 1994. Public Utilities staff countered with a $15 million hike.
Mickelsen and others pointed out the increase hits irrigation the hardest of the five major customer groups.
Residential users would see a 19 percent raise in base rates, small commercial 21 percent, large commercial 15 percent, industrial 14 percent and irrigation 25 percent.
Aberdeen's Chuck Buchta estimated the proposed rate increase would raise his 2,500-acre farm's annual operating costs by about $37,000.
A farmer currently paying $500 monthly would pay about $625 per month under the proposed system. Buchta said that going under is a legitimate concern for many southern Idaho farmers.
"Much has changed since we last filed for a general rate increase," Idaho Power President LaMont Keen said. "While the past decade of growth has been good for Idaho, it has put considerable financial pressure on Idaho Power to keep pace."
But some attending Monday pointed to recent increases in power cost adjustment fees. The fees can increase or decrease, based on the amount of snowpack feeding Idaho Power's hydroelectric dams each year.
Alicia Tellez of the Idaho Migrant Council told the Jerome hearing she sees a lot of families that need help paying their electric bills, including laid-off employees from the defunct J.R. Simplot Co. potato plant in Heyburn.
"If the farms go out of business, what will happen to the workers?" she asked.
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