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Electrical Costs Soaring for Idahoans

by Associated Press
Capital Press - March 1, 2002

TWIN FALLS, Idaho(AP) -- Comparing power bills has become a conversational staple in the Magic Valley this winter.

When Geraldine Gorman of Twin Falls opened her January electrical bill, she said her heart nearly stopped. It was $290, compared with past typical winter power bills of about $70.

"A lot of seniors are complaining, especially if they are alone and have to pay these bills," Geraldine Gorman, 75, said.

The sticker shock has prompted many customers to call Idaho Power to question their bills. Idaho Power Co., which serves much of Magic Valley, says its customers aren't seeing another rate increase. They are feeling the effect of higher rates adopted in May and September during cold winter months when electrical usage is higher.

State regulators approved a portion of the company's rate increase in May and another portion in September but denied Idaho Power's full request. The raises were to offset the cost of buying electricity in 2000 and 2001.

Between May 2000 and December 2000, wholesale electrical rates rose from 2.5 cents per kilowatt-hour to 52 cents. But Idaho Power's cutomers still were paying 5.2 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The company only adjusts its rates in the spring. In 2001, there were two rate bumps because state regulators analyzed a portion of the increase before granting more of it.

The disparity lasted about 16 months, Idaho Power consumers will see their bills reflect today's lower wholesale prices, he said.

Idaho Power likens the scenario to a "perfect storm." Water generates most of Idaho Power's electrical supply. The drought of 2001 produced probably the second-worst water year in the company's history, Idaho Power spokesman Dennis Lopez said.

That, combined with high natural gas prices, total chaos in California and an insane wholesale market, resulted in today's consumer rates, he said.

"Our company was faced with major issues," Lopez said. Other larger power suppliers such as PacifiCorp-Utah Power, which serves portions of Eastern Idaho, benefited from buy-back agreements with the Bonneville Power Administration, Fadness said.

BPA was short on power, and starting with its largest buyers, it paid them cash in exchange for not using so much. That resulted in lower residential and small-fram rates for their customers. The energy crisis eased by the time BPA approached smaller utilities such as Idaho Power, Fadness said.

So far, the number of households that can't make payments and have requested Idaho Power not shut off the power has more than doubled from a year ago -- 5,598 this year compared with 2,569 in 2001.

The rate increase have caused hardships and conservation efforts have proved costly and frustrating for some. Last year, Vonnie and Tom Mallane of Hagerman installed energy-efficient heat pumps on a building they own.

Because they used less electricity, they were bumped into a higher commercial rate category, she said. In December 1999, the monthly bill was about $95. With the rate increase in effect, the bill was $327 in December 2001.

Clint Carlin of Jerome owns a meat-packing business. His electic bill was $394 in December, compared with $275 a year ago.

"This makes it tough. You can not pass it on," he said. He figures with the costs to operate his business and heat his home, he basically is paying the electic company the cost of a $200 car payment.

"In comparison dollars, we were foreced to buy another vehicle."

Associated Press
Electrical Costs Soaring for Idahoans
Capital Press, March 1, 2002

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