WENATCHEE — The Chelan County PUD Commission has approved its five-year strategic plan with a stronger emphasis on economic development. It also proposes annual rate increases for local power, fiber, water and wastewater customers.
While commissioners on Monday approved the first step toward a rate increase, the PUD will go through a separate public outreach and planning process before any increases are implemented, spokeswoman Kimberlee Craig said Tuesday.
An annual 3% increase is proposed for power and fiber customers and a 4% increase is proposed for water and wastewater customers, Craig said.
Chelan County customers haven’t seen a rate increase in eight years and rates have increased 9% since 2000, while inflation has seen a 40% increase, according to a draft of the strategic plan.
Through its monthslong public feedback process — which included more than 3,700 survey responses — the PUD found 76% of customers preferred smaller regular increases rather than large increases in the future, according to the draft plan.
Power rates in the county are subsidized with revenue the PUD makes selling surplus power on the wholesale market. But that market can be volatile, so a modest rate increase now will help the utility stabilize rates in the long run, PUD General Manager Steve Wright said in August.
The utility is also looking into ways to limit the impact rate increases could have on low-income customers, Craig said.
This is the PUD’s second strategic plan. The first was implemented in 2015. At that time, the three major priorities were to:
- Reinvest in physical assets and people
- Reduce its debt-equity ratio below 35%
- Initiate a public power benefit program
Refined versions of those three priorities are included in the next plan, along with a fourth that addresses economic development.
The new plan’s four priorities are:
- Invest in assets and people and seek industry top-quartile performance for hydro generation, retail reliability and safety while improving customer service technology
- Sustain excellent financial resiliency while mitigating the risk of large rate increases
- Enhance the quality of life in Chelan County through programs that distribute the benefits of public power
- Engage in countywide growth planning and job creation while ensuring the District’s rates and policies are stable and predictable
Commissioners reviewed a draft of the plan in August. Since then, the plan has seen a few minor language changes and an increased emphasis on the utility’s desire to speed up the expansion of its fiber network, Craig said.
Currently, 76% of the county has access to high-speed fiber internet and the PUD had planned to reach 85% to 90% by 2025, but staff is determining whether it could be achieved faster, Craig said.
During Monday’s meeting, commissioners also saw draft five-year business plans for each of the utility’s nine divisions, Craig said.
Final versions of those plans, and the draft 2020 budget, will be brought to the commission at its Nov. 4 meeting.