Jeff Golden’s Wildfire Bill Will Jack Up Utility Bills for His Constituents

By Reagan Knopp

In a move that consumer groups are calling Pacific Power’s “largest residential increase in 20 years,” one of Oregon’s largest utility companies is seeking to raise utility rates by up to 14% this next year. The move is in part in response to a bill Democrat’s passed in 2021.

According to The Oregonian reporting, “a significant driver of the general rate increase request, accounting for about half of it, is future investments in wildfire planning and mitigation.” These “investments” are mandated regulations under Senate Bill 762. The Mail Tribune, a local paper in Southern Oregon, reported those increases could be as high as 14%, which would mean a potential increase of over $150 per year on a typical household.

According to Pacific Power’s 1,116-page filing, Senate Bill 762 is referenced 25 times.

SB 762, a bill drafted and championed by Senator Jeff Golden (D-Ashland), added extra regulations on power companies in Oregon in an attempt to prevent wildfires.

On June 25, 2021, Golden, when speaking in support of the bill, described the effort as “remarkable” and spoke about his “pride” in working on the bill. He quoted Hellen Keller, saying, “I am only one, but I am still one. I cannot do everything, but still, I can do something, and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

It appears what Golden can do is raise utility bills on its own constituents. Pacific Power has over 97,000 ratepayers in Jackson County. Golden represents over 110,000 voters in Jackson County.

In his floor speech in support of SB 762, Golden made it a point to put on the record statements about the importance of the state agencies in charge of implementing the regulations outlined in the bill. “This act delegates all rulemaking authority regarding utility-centered wildfire risk to the Public Utilities Commission.” Pacific Power’s move to increase rates was a response to the rules that were made by the PUC.

Earlier this year, Jeff Golden killed SB 1573, a Republican proposal to boost forest thinning on public lands. Research shows that thinning is extremely effective in preventing catastrophic wildfire. The science is unclear on how these new regulations on utility companies will decrease wildfire.

Pacific Power’s rate increase request must now go through a rate-making process to be approved by the Public Utility Commission (PUC), the government agencies that set utility rates.

Oregonians affected by the potential rate increase can make comments at an online public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 24. To participate in the meeting, provide Zoom meeting ID No. 823-8399-1218 and pass code 4884093995, or call into the meeting by dialing 971-247-1195

The Oregon PUC states that the general rate change request is undergoing a nearly year-long review, which will conclude with commissioners ruling on the request in December. If approved, the rates would go into effect Jan. 1, 2023