Growing power bills drain irrigators
Growing energy expenses are making life difficult for Ed Biggs.
The Malin producer leases land for others to grow potatoes while he manages a couple hundred acres for hay and pasture. His power bill to irrigate that land tops $500 a month, a far cry from what it used to cost him three or four years ago.
“Used to be that a $100 bill would cover the pumps for a month,” he said.
Rising costs, such as ever-increasing rates from power companies as well as loss of an energy credit, continue to strain those in agriculture who use power to run a vast network of pumps and pipe.
Officials say they are working to restore the energy credit provided by the Bonneville Power Administration until a court ruling determined it to be unfair earlier this year. But that is just a small part of the burden to producers.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals declared the credit illegal because it gave private energy companies such as Pacific Power an unfair advantage over similar public utilities. It was worth more than half a cent per kilowatt hour and cut the roughly one cent per kilowatt hour rate for irrigators in half.
Loss of credit hurts
The removal of the credit added insult to injury because irrigators in Northern California and Southern Oregon were already dealing with a phase-in of a higher power rate.
Filed by Pacific Power in 2004, the intent of the rate case was to bring irrigators up to the same commercial rate offered by the company to all other customers, about 9 cents per kilowatt hour.
Irrigators on the Klamath Reclamation Project previously paid about six-tenths of a cent per kilowatt hour because of the benefits the project provided Pacific Power hydroelectric generation.
The Legislature granted Oregon irrigators a sevenyea r tra nsition per iod to adjust to the new rate, meaning it will increase to 9 cents by 2012. The rate this year sits at 1.12 cents per kilowatt hour.
California irrigators were granted a three-year transition period. Their rate is about 4 cents per kilowatt hour during this growing season.
Off icials representing irrigators and power companies are still fighting to restore the credit. Greg Addington, executive director of the Klamath Water Users Association, said his organization is applying pressure on state lawmakers to resolve the issue.
Toby Freeman, regional community manager for Pacific Power, said his company also is trying to restore the credit by appealing the court’s decision and talking to legislators.
Unfortunately, BPA has yet to request a rehearing of the case, though it was scheduled to have a public meeting in Portland last night to receive testimony on the matter.
Even with the credit restored, Biggs indicated that other cost factors affecting power for irrigation could eventually put too much strain on those in agriculture. He said his increased costs have started to affect his retirement fund.
“Give us another three years and we might be maxed out,” he said.