TID proposes rate hike for power of up to 7%

Electricity customers in the Turlock Irrigation District could face rate increases of 4 percent to 7 percent in each of the next two years, officials said Wednesday.

The proposal, which the district board could consider in November, would help pay for new power sources, among other things.

A 4 percent increase would add about $4 to the average residential bill of roughly $100 per month. Bills are usually higher in summer than winter because of air-conditioner use.

"These are preliminary numbers," said Jim Farrar, assistant general manager for resource management, planning and rates. "Four to 7 percent is what we think will work."

The TID last raised power rates in early 2009, when they went up 13 percent for homes and 12 percent to 20 percent for businesses.

The district staff held a pair of workshops for ratepayers at the Turlock headquarters Wednesday. Similar meetings will be held in Patterson tonight and Ceres next week.

The first workshop drew just four customers, including Joe A. Souza, who lives southeast of Turlock. He has a solar electricity system on his home, but still gets a large amount of TID power.

"I think if they can justify these rates, it's something we can deal with," he said after the meeting.

Some of the increase is to cover payments to bond buyers who financed a wind energy project in Washington state, which started generating power in 2009, utility rate analyst Chris Poley said.

The TID also will start making payments on the expansion of its Almond power plant near Ceres, which burns natural gas, he said. It is scheduled to be finished next summer.

The wind turbines supply 28 percent of the district's power, putting it close to meeting a state mandate to get at least 33 percent from renewable sources by 2020.

This energy costs more than conventional sources such as gas and hydropower. Poley said the district can wait a few years before adding renewables, to see if the price per kilowatt-hour drops.

"I've got to believe that between now and then, there's going to be more improvements in the technology," he said.

TID officials said they have tried to control costs by leaving some vacant jobs unfilled. The staff totals 474 this year, down from 482 in 2009.

Managers received no raises the past two years, while other employees got negotiated increases of 3.75 percent each year.

The TID has about 100,000 electricity customers in an area from south Modesto to north Merced County, and from the La Grange area to the hills west of Patterson.

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.