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Costs of storm cleanup are built into power rates

Who picks up the tab, when power company crews go out to repair lines and transformers after big storms? Are the costs built into the monthly bills or are they part of the leverage utility companies have when they ask the PUC for rate increases?

— Harry R., Medford 

Pacific Power, a unit of MidAmerican Energy Co., anticipates howling winds, thunderstorms and other mayhem when it draws up its operating and maintenance budgets.

So when storms, such as the one that blew through Southern Oregon last week, knock out lines and lights, Pacific Power crews are ready to roll. Crews from Grants Pass, Klamath Falls and Yreka converged on Jackson County to help out in the July 7 storm.

"The costs are built into our rates," said Pacific Power spokesman Ry Schwark. "We presume there will be a certain amount of damage and that's what we pay crews to do."

Pacific Power has insurance for major events, but rarely seeks to file a claim.

"In Oregon, we used to have more insurance up until a few years ago," Schwark said. "The rates on that insurance weren’t sustainable, so the cost of outages and repairs are now fully embedded in rates and flow through the Oregon Public Utility Commission in our general rate cases. We track those costs and have an account for them. We do have catastrophic insurance when damage exceeds $10 million, but that hasn’t been triggered in over five years."

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. To see a collection of columns, go to mailtribune.com/youasked. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.