A proposed 5 percent increase in electricity rates will go to a Dec. 2 public hearing before the Turlock Irrigation District board, but officials made clear Tuesday that it’s not a done deal.
Directors voted 4-1, with Joe Alamo dissenting, to schedule the hearing on the proposal. It would raise the average residential bill to about $131 a month, although power use is much greater in summer than winter.
Alamo said he would prefer to wait until the district adopts a final budget for 2015 in December. A key factor, he said, is the possibility that the severe drought will ease this fall and TID could get more cheap hydropower from Don Pedro Reservoir.
“Some extra water in the reservoir would do a lot for our budget next year,” Alamo said.
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Scheduling a hearing does not commit the board to raising the rates, said Chris Poley, utility analyst for TID.
The staff is looking to close a projected $16.7 million gap between customer income and the cost of delivering electricity. The staff cited needs that include the federal relicensing of Don Pedro, a state mandate to get at least 33 percent of overall power from renewable sources, and paying attractive salaries to people who run the sophisticated system.
The last rate vote was in 2011, when the board approved increases of 4 percent each in early 2012, 2013 and 2014.
TID provides electricity to about 98,000 homes, businesses and other customers. Its service area stretches from south Modesto to north Merced County and from the La Grange area to the hills southwest of Patterson.
Hydropower from Don Pedro on the Tuolumne River was the sole source many decades ago, but TID now needs to tap its Pacific Northwest wind project, its plants fueled by natural gas and other sources.
And Don Pedro is undergoing the complex process of renewing the 50-year license granted in 1966. It involves exhaustive studies on downstream fish and other concerns, and eventually upgrades to the power plant.
The district plans informal meetings in Turlock, Ceres and Patterson next month to explain the possible rate increases to the public. The board also could hold a workshop this fall.
“I would support going forward with setting the rate hearing and working through (the proposal) slowly,” board member Michael Frantz said.
Electricity rates in the neighboring Modesto Irrigation District could be discussed after the board completes its workshops on the 2015 budget, spokeswoman Melissa Williams said. The staff has not made any recommendations.