The Cost of Doing Business
Wells Rural Electric Co. employees work hard to provide accurate consumer accounting and ensure every bill represents reliable electricity service and tremendous value for all of our members. We also realize it can be a complex process for members who might only look at their bill and electricity use once a month when they pay their bill. To better explain the components of your bill and electricity use—and the value cooperative members receive—we will use this space regularly to address some of the bill questions we are most commonly asked.
When Wells Rural Electric Co. bills go out later this month, members will see a new line item: Court-Ordered Fish Spill Surcharge.
Of course, kilowatt-hour use and the monthly service charge remain, but now there will also be a few extra cents tacked on as WREC passes through costs associated with a spill surcharge developed by the cooperative’s whole- sale power provider—the Bonneville Power Administration—to recover costs associated with a court order requiring the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to increase spill at eight dams on the lower Columbia and Snake rivers.
Spill basically works as it sounds. In dam terms, it is the practice of allowing water to spill over the top of dams to help young salmon as they migrate to the ocean. On April 2, 2018, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a U.S. District Court ruling that concluded the Federal Columbia River Biological Opinion does not do enough to protect salmon. The BiOp—a collaborative product of federal agencies, states and tribes during President Barack Obama’s administration—was created to establish operating procedures for dams to protect salmon. As a result of the judge’s ruling, those eight dams were forced to spill water on a 24-hour basis—not to exceed existing gas caps—from April 2, 2018, through June. Water falling over dams can changes the gas levels of the river, which can be dangerous for fish.
Water spilled over dams cannot be used to produce electricity, which leads to a decrease in revenue.
BPA originally estimated the regional impact of the spill to be around $40 million, which it was able to reduce to $10.2 million by reducing costs in other areas.
WREC’s part is nearly $200,000. As a not-for-profit cooperative that delivers electricity to its members at cost, the financial impact of this increased spilling must be passed directly to members of WREC and many other publicly owned utilities in Pacific Northwest.
In truth, the total cost of salmon regulation would be much higher than a few cents per member represented by the surcharge. Roughly 33 cents from every dollar WREC members spend on electricity is the direct result of wildlife regulation.
Of course, responsible environmental stewardship is an essential aspect of generating and delivering electricity. However, it’s important that the costs associated with any regulation are based on common sense and solid scientific evidence.
Reputable studies are inconclusive whether the benefits of spill actually outweigh the drawbacks. WREC decided to create the court-ordered fish spill surcharge line item—as opposed to blending it with either the service charge or kWh use—so members can see how court rulings, legislation and regulation can directly impact their bill.