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Seattle Mayor Wants Residents To Pay More For Their Electricity

Deborah Wang
05/08/2012

The Seattle City Council plans to hold public hearings in June on a proposal that would increase electricity rates in the city. Yesterday, Mayor Mike McGinn unveiled a plan that would raise rates more than 30 percent over the next six years. McGinn says the increase is needed to pay for upgrades and repairs. But some businesses are asking for a delay. KUOW's Deborah Wang reports.

TRANSCRIPT

Seattle's electricity rates are currently among the lowest in the country. That's in large part due to the city's heavy reliance on hydro power. But the city's leaders say low rates have come at a cost.

Seattle City Light has a backlog of projects it needs to pay for — from basic maintenance to replacing old transmission lines and underground cables. It also wants to build a new power substation to meet the growing demand in downtown Seattle and South Lake Union. That would cost about $200 million. Here's Mayor Mike McGinn.

McGinn: "So doing these things, investing in reliability, investing in a smart grid, making sure we are able to be responsive in the event of power outages, all takes a little bit of money. And if you don't pay it now, you can be guaranteed to pay it later."

So McGinn is proposing increasing rates close to 5 percent for each of the next six years. That would raise the electricity bill for the average family by about $35 per year.

For large businesses, like manufacturers, hotels, or research institutions, that could mean tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars more in their electric bills.

Some businesses support the plan. High–tech companies need a reliable grid 24 hours a day. But for others.

Allen: "The sticker shock for the rate increase is really a little hard to swallow."

George Allen is vice president of the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce. He says the utility needs to do more before it asks for more money from ratepayers.

Allen: "Any time you talk about a rate increase, you've got to talk about equally aggressive ways of bringing down your costs. It doesn't matter whether you are driving a business forward or looking at your own home, you can't pay more for the same thing, you have got to drive your costs down before you ask anyone for more money."

The utility says it has cut costs, about $53 million worth over the past eight years. And it has identified $13 million more to cut. Some of those cuts can only happen with the agreement of the utility's labor unions.

The City Council will spend the next six weeks reviewing the Mayor's plan. It's likely to come up for a vote later this summer.

I'm Deborah Wang, KUOW News.

© Copyright 2012, KUOW

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