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Pacific Power prepares irrigators for rate hike

The mock bills are in the mail.

Pacific Power has sent mock bills to Klamath Basin irrigators, showing them how their monthly power costs might go up in a year.

Contracts between Klamath Reclamation Project irrigators and the power company that keep power prices down to about a half a cent per kilowatt hour expire next spring and company officials say they will likely increase tenfold.

"In some cases more," said Jon Coney, company spokesman.

Irrigators should have gotten the mock bills and a letter explaining the situation Wednesday or they will get them today, he said.

"In compliance with the contracts, state law and regulatory policy, it is expected that these rates will be discontinued and irrigator electricity service will be provided under our standard irrigation tariff rates beginning April 2006," according to the letter.

That tariff is about 6 cents, Coney said.

The mock bills sent to customers are specific to their usage from 2000 to 2004, showing how much the customer paid for the power under the current contract and how much they would pay for it with the increase.

A mock bill provided by Pacific Power to the Herald and News was for a hypothetical customer with a 60-horsepower irrigation pump. It showed power costs going up by about ten times.

The letter, signed by Doug Larson, company vice president of regulation, also includes a disclaimer that the estimates can vary widely because your future bill will depend on customers demand and a demand charge that will be tacked onto the bill once the contract expire.

Pacific Power's predecessor, COPCO, made the contracts that provided for fixed reduced rates for irrigators in the Basin.

"These contracts have held irrigators' rates at levels that have not increased since that time - and some not since 1917," according to the letter.

Irrigators have known the end of the contracts, and possible ensuing increase in rates, have been coming for years.

"This has not been a secret," Coney said.

The Klamath Water Users Association has had a committee working on the issue for close to a decade and its members say they still hold out hope at getting new contracts that continue a reduced rate. Their last resort is to try to get the public to vote for a public utility district that could control the costs of power to irrigators.

But at a Klamath County Cattlemen's Association luncheon in late February, a Pacific Power official said the rates would likely be going up to what other irrigators around Oregon pay, or about 6 cents per kilowatt hour. The mock bills and letter are the first formal notice to individual customers of the coming increases, Coney said.

"We have a responsibility to prepare folks for this," he said. "That's all we can do at this point."

He said making the mock bills that went back five years for the individual customers came after a request from the water users association.

The company continues to work with the water users, as well with the Klamath Off-Project Water Users, a group that represents irrigators who aren't in the Project and have a separate contract they say doesn't have an expiration date, to find ways to manage the change, according to the letter.

"It's not an easy pill to swallow for anyone," Coney said. "We understand that."

On the Net: pacificpower.net

PacifiCorp. hotline

To field questions about how power bills for Klamath Basin irrigators could be going up in a year, PacifiCorp has set up a hotline. The line is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call (800) 715-9238

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