PacifiCorp wants to increase residential electric rates by 1.6% starting next year to support a transition toward more renewable energy, along with other investments in wildfire protection, cybersecurity and customer service.

PacifiCorp, owned by investment firm Berkshire Hathaway, provides power to 1.9 million people in six Western states, including 615,000 retail customers in Oregon as Pacific Power. The price the utility can charge for electricity is overseen by the state Public Utility Commission.

Pacific Power smart meter installation

PacifiCorp, which operates as Pacific Power in Oregon, cited investments such as new smart power usage meters as a reason for needing increased electric rates starting next year.

The utility requested an additional $78 million in revenue — equal to a 6% increase in energy rates — from the commission last week. It is PacifiCorp’s first request since 2013, when it asked for 4.6% and the commission granted 1.9%.

The utility is also proposing a rate decrease of more than $49 million through savings from cross-state purchases of renewable energy and other efforts, meaning rates would ultimately go up by 1.6% next year, the utility said in a filing. It estimates the average impact on a customer consuming 900 kilowatt-hours per month would be $4.03.

“The modest request in this case demonstrates PacifiCorp’s prudent and efficient management of its costs that has allowed the company to stay out of general rate cases beyond its commitment made in its last general rate case (in 2013) … all while adhering to the core principle of providing sustainable energy solutions in the form of safe, reliable and affordable service for customers,” Etta Lockey, the utility’s vice president of regulation, wrote in her testimony on the rate case.

The utility, often criticized for how much energy it sources from fossil fuel like coal and natural gas, hopes to increase its renewable portfolio by 11,000 megawatts over the next 20 years while decreasing coal generation by 4,500 MW. It plans to retire 16 of its 24 coal generators by 2030, and 20 by 2038. The rate case includes the early shutdown of a 395 MW generator at the Cholla coal plant in northern Arizona.

In 2018, PacifiCorp gained approval for a $3 billion Energy Vision 2020 initiative, which will add more than 1 gigawatts of wind power capacity in Wyoming and repower 900 MW of wind facilities there and in Washington state. The projects are expected to increase the amount of owned and contracted wind capacity in PacifiCorp’s network by 60%. The plan also includes more than 500 miles of new transmission lines from Wyoming to Utah.

“Our customers in Oregon are looking for a cleaner portfolio,” said Spencer Hall, a spokesman for Pacific Power. “There’s a price associated with that.”

PacifiCorp’s argument cites other investments to reduce its environmental impact, such as the installation of fish passage at its hydroelectric dams along the Lewis River near Mount St. Helens, emissions reduction equipment on several coal plants and the conversion of another plant from coal to natural gas. The utility also cites programs to incentivize conversion of street lighting to LED and investments in customer service like smart meters that allow people to better monitor power usage, and the utility to more quickly identify outages.

The utility also cited the increased cost of adapting to wildfire risk. PG&E, California’s largest electricity provider, filed for bankruptcy protection after admitting its power lines likely started the Camp Fire, which burned 150,000 acres and killed 85 people in 2018. The Delta Fire in 2018 burned 60,000 acres, costing PacifiCorp $36 million to rebuild two damaged transmission lines.

Kandi Young, a spokeswoman for the Public Utility Commission, said staff will establish a schedule for hearings and gather information from PacifiCorp before making a recommendation to the commission.

Edward Stratton is a reporter for The Astorian. Contact him at 971-704-1719 or estratton@dailyastorian.com.

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