BUC customers see high bills

by Ben Matheson on February 25, 2014

IMG_3389January was a warm month and many Bethel residents were expecting their electric bills to reflect fewer days of plugging the car in and running Toyostoves. It came to the surprise of many to see bills that doubled in the new year.

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Hilary Jung’s electric bill in the winter is normally 75 or 80 dollars.

“I went to go check the Post Office and opened my bill, and it was a $170, $100 extra from what it was,” said Jung.

Jung says nothing about her energy use changed for the month. She unplugs everything that’s not needed, and uses energy efficient light bulbs.

“I don’t own a vehicle, I don’t have any freezers, I don’t have a clothes dryer,” said Jung. “I just have a refrigerator, you know?”

Jung’s not the only one seeing large bills. One customer saw a $593 charge. Others report $200 increases over the December bill.

The reason behind some of the larger than normal bills is an extra long billing cycle. Some bills show 38 or 39 days for the past month. That’s critical when it comes to the Power Cost Equalization formula, the program that subsidizes 500kw hours per month to match prices on the rail belt.

Every kilowatt hour in a bill that’s beyond 500 is billed at full price, which last month was over 56 cents per kwh, before taxes. That’s almost 4 times the price for PCE-subsidized hours, which tally to around 14 cents.

The Alaska Regulatory Commission oversees the operation of utilities in the state. The commission has received a few calls from Bethel residents, but so, far, the commission says there is nothing that violates their approved tariff.

BUC’s tariff states, “normally each meter is read on the same date each month. Any actual billing period may vary from the optimum period because of weekends, holidays, and workload.”

Critically it adds that “no adjustment in bills will be made for such variation.”

Another piece of the bill is the Cost of Power Adjustment. That’s a fuel-related surcharge that the utility can change without a long review process. That charge went up in January, but the power cost equalization formula did not rise to match it. Customers of course pay the difference.

The extra charge came as the commission initially rejected BUC’s tariff modification due to improper filing. BUC didn’t learn about that rejection for 10 days. It’s not the biggest part of the bill, but the COPA charge rose to $0.0773 from $0.0311, per kwh, a difference of 4 and a half cents. PCE did not cover that rise on some residents’ January bills. On a 500-kwh bill with tax, that amounts to about 24 dollars.

According to state regulations, a change in the PCE formula can be no sooner than 45 days after filing. BUC filed for the rate hike on January 13th, and later asked for a waiver of the 45 day period. That was granted late last week and should show up on bills issued after February 20th.

BUC’s time as Bethel’s electric utility is limited. The Alaska Village Electric Co-op will take over service as of May 1st.

BUC did not return calls or emails requesting information. The Regulatory Commission answered questions but declined to be recorded.

Documentation from the Alaska Regulatory Commission is available here.

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