Seattle City Light wants to raise rates

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by JANE MCCARTHY / KING 5 News

NWCN.com

Posted on October 30, 2009 at 6:58 AM

Updated Friday, Oct 30 at 9:09 AM

SEATTLE - Seattle City Light wants to pass a rate increase on to its customers' bills next year.

So why do they want an increase? City Light sells surplus power, but the price has plummeted, so they've gotten less than half the revenue they expected. The poor economy hasn't helped either.

City Light also says it has a lot of old equipment that needs replacing and their utility's infrastructure, particularly in West Seattle and Capitol Hill, is in terrible shape.   City Light showed us some of the rough spots.

"When I look at the top of the pole, I see the top of the pole is rotted," said Jeff Joy, Seattle City Light. "It's obviously been deteriorating for some period of time."

Part of Seattle's power distribution system was originally installed in 1923.

"We are standing in front of a 1920's era breaker-system," said Joy.

Many parts with an expected 50-year life span are now upwards of 80 years old. City Light says deferred maintenance is beginning to show in the form of frequent power outages.

"In the last 5, 6 years utilities had a 12% rate decrease and that's great for our customers but it comes at a price if we have to delay and defer some of our maintenance programs," said Suzanne Hartman, spokesperson for Seattle City Light.

Mayor Greg Nickels has proposed an 8.8% rate increase for 2010. In the meantime, City Light employees are hoping this winter will be kind to all these wires.

The rate increase must be approved by the City Council. Seattle City Council member Bruce Harrell, chair of the energy and technology committee, is not comfortable with an 8.8% increase. He says the council is looking into where the utility can cut costs without jeopardizing reliability.

When asked if they thought there would be some kind of rate increase, Harrell said yes.  When asked if he thought it was going to be 8.8%, he said no. The council votes on the entire budget, which includes City Light, on November 23rd.

If approved, the rate increase would start in January.

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