CITY LIGHT RATE INCREASE -- 2000

By Bob Hegamin                           AN OPINION                        November 22,  2000

"More than 20 years ago, Seattle chose the path that led to our internationally recognized conservation program.  It remains our first priority.  Every kilowatt we save is one less we have to generate or buy.  And, it saves us all money.."  but  ".. add(s) ten percent to ..our customers' bills."

These statements, in part, are contained in a recent flier sent out by Seattle City Light, a municipally owned electric utility.  It calls on Seattle's customers to continue the dichotomy of conserving electrical power purportedly to save money, yet pay higher bills through higher rates for the power they do use.

The concept of conservation was flawed when it was first proposed and continues to be so.  Initiated by City Hall, it had been touted as a form of generation, which it is not.  Conservation cannot produce a single watt of power, and by its very nature -- has an exponentially limited life.  From that alleged and fatally flawed "energy policy", City Light had allowed itself to delay, perhaps irreversibly, the design and construction of new power plants needed to meet the City's increasing load.  Now, after twenty-three years, City Light's conservation plan is once again being touted as a legitimate source of power generation.  But, for whom?  The original effort had  added this virtual power to City Light's actual power for Seattle's growing new high-rise building loads.   As actual loads increased, however, the utility was forced to buy additional expensive power from the market place.  This subsequently led to Seattle's electric rates being increased by more than four hundred percent.  Who is supposed to benefit this time?  Again, from the flier:

"Seattle's commercial growth is strong -- in office buildings, computers and communications.  And, these businesses are big users of electrical power."

Apparently, the load from Seattle's downtown commercial sector continues to drive the demand for more electrical power.  Prior to 1977, the goal of City Light was to provide the residents of Seattle with the most reliable power system nationally, and with rates low enough to adequately support the continued operation and maintenance of the utility.  It was a goal based on the fact that City Light has its own generation, transmission and distribution facilities.  From 1977 to the present, or during three administrations, Seattle's elected officials had gradually chipped away at City Light's autonomy, finally asserting their control over the utility by installing an administration composed of political appointees.  Under the direction of City Hall, City Light now develops policies designed to use revenues from electric rates to absorb some of the City's general obligation projects.  In other words, City Light has become City Hall's "cash cow."

"CHOICES for our future:  We've embarked on a plan to help us become independent from today's unstable power markets. We believe it leads to greater reliability for our electric system at an affordable price and with better results for our environment.  And we need you, because you are a part of the solution."

The concepts and designs of J.D. Ross created today's City Light.  His legacy to the City was an electrical power system essentially independent of outside sources, and reliable residential power at the lowest possible price.  For today's City Light to promise an even "greater reliability" for a questionably affordable price but not at the lowest price ignores that legacy.