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Grays Harbor PUD rates to increase by 3.75 percent

Grays Harbor PUD customers will see a 3.75 percent rate increase in January, a component of the 2014 budget commissioners passed on Monday.

A 1.75 percent increase could be initiated later in the year if PUD officials deem it necessary.

“We don’t take this lightly,” said PUD Manager Dave Ward. “We’ve really looked into our budget to see what we can do.”

The decision to increase rates was largely driven by an increase in power costs. The Bonneville Power Administration, which provides 89 percent of the utility’s power, increased power rates by 9 percent and transmission rates by 11 percent in October. Doug Streeter, chief financial officer for the PUD, estimated that the increases could cost the utility about $1.8 million this year.

In an August press release, Bonneville officials said the increase is the result of maintenance and operations costs, as well as the cost of funding fish and wildlife mitigation programs.

This isn’t the PUD’s only rate increase in recent years — although it is considerably smaller than past rate hikes. Customers saw an 8 percent increase in January of 2013, a 7 percent increase in February 2012 and an 8 percent increase before that.

The utility’s budget includes about $10 million in capital expenditures, whittled down from about $12 million in a November budget draft. The PUD will spend about $1 million on transmission line projects, $1.5 million on substation projects, $6 million on power distribution projects and $3 million on the general plant.

The PUD will purchase a few big-ticket items under the capital budget, including transformers and trucks. The utility will spend about $450,000 to replace a transformer damaged by a lightning strike at the Harding Road substation.

The utility will also purchase three new trucks: a $350,000 line truck, a $220,000 bucket truck to serve the Quinault area and a $225,000 bucket truck to serve Elma.The older vehicles being replaced won’t necessarily be sold as surplus.

“We want to rotate out the worst equipment and keep the best so we have some spares,” Ward said.

The capital budget will also allow crews to replace problematic meters in the Ocean Shores area. The meters, installed about 10 years ago, have been failing more quickly than anticipated because of the damp, salty air. The new meters will cost the utility about $30,000

“Looking at that new technology, it looks like they’ll be performing a lot better than the ones we bought 10 years ago,” Ward said.

The 2014 capital budget is considerably larger than the past year’s, which totaled $7.2 million.

“We’ve increased the capital budget quite a bit because last year we went bare-bones because we were trying to get through the transition to a new manager,” said Chief Financial Officer Doug Streeter.

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