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Electricity bills will go up 15% starting Jan. 1

Pacific Power residential customers will see an average of 15.1% higher electricity bills starting in January due to a rate increase. [File photo]

Rogue Valley residents already facing high costs for groceries, housing and other essentials will see even higher bills in January when electricity costs go up 15%.

The Oregon Public Utility Commission recently finalized rate increases for Pacific Power that go into effect Jan. 1. A typical residential customer who uses 900 kilowatt hours per month can expect monthly bills to increase from $91.89 to $111.34, which is about a 15.1% increase, according to PUC.

The impact varies depending on actual energy use for residential, commercial and industrial customers. The average increase for all customer types is 14.8%, PUC said.

“We recognize that increasing rates at a time when Oregonians are already dealing with high inflation presents challenges for many customers,” PUC Chair Megan Decker said in a press release. “Unfortunately, fuel cost increases and supply chain delays caused by global events, combined with increasing volatility in regional electricity markets, drive the price for utilities to produce and purchase electricity.”

The electricity bill increase is coming on the heels of an 18.4% increase in natural gas bills for Avista customers that went into effect Nov. 1. A typical customer with a monthly natural gas bill averaging $68.17 is now paying an average of $80.70 monthly, PUC estimates.

PUC approved that rate increase due to a significant increase in global natural gas prices.

Pacific Power expects to pay more for natural gas and coal used to produce electricity, and it faces higher costs to buy electricity on the market. The electric utility is also spending more to reduce wildfire risk, PUC said.

Wildfires can damage electricity infrastructure, and power lines and other power equipment can also spark fires. Power companies throughout the West face wildfire danger. They’ve been hit with billions of dollars in lawsuits over accusations their equipment started fires that killed people and destroyed homes and businesses.

Pacific Power has identified areas around Medford, the Applegate Valley, Grants Pass, Cave Junction and Roseburg as having some of the highest wildfire risks in Oregon. Pacific Power plans to target improvements in the highest-risk areas of the state.

Steps to improve system safety include trimming trees around power lines, insulating lines so they don’t spark fires and adding devices in the field that can monitor conditions and shut off sections of lines, as well as building hundreds of weather stations to improve monitoring and forecasting, according to Pacific Power.

The power company also could shut down parts of the system if forecasts predict dangerous conditions.

With electricity costs rising, Decker said residential customers may be able to use programs that help those who are struggling financially.

“Although the utilities cannot avoid all of the impacts of these higher prices in the short term, there may be options available for residential customers to help reduce the bottom line impact,” she said in the press release.

For information on getting help with electricity bills, see pacificpower.net or call 1-888-221-7070. The website also has information on ways to save energy to reduce bills.

Other programs and community organizations also offer help with energy bills.

To apply for Oregon Energy Fund assistance, see oregonenergyfund.org/energy-assistance.

Those who’ve been impacted by COVID-19 can get help with electricity and natural gas bills at oregonenergyfund.org/covid-19-debt-relief-utility-bills-help.

ACCESS provides help in the Rogue Valley with utility bills, weatherization, food, housing and more. See accesshelps.org or call 541-779-6691.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.