Councilmember Says Burien Residents Are Overpaying Seattle City Light
by Ralph Nichols
Seattle City Light is charging Burien and other suburban ratepayers – residential and commercial – more than it costs the utility to provide their electricity.
And, says Burien City Councilman Jack Block Jr., this inequity must change.
When council members review at tonight’s meeting (Monday, Oct. 4) their priorities for the 2011 Legislature, Block wants them to include a request to make City Light accountable to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC).
“Burien ratepayers [served by City Light] are paying to subsidize Seattle’s budget,” Block told The B-Town Blog on Oct. 2 – echoing comments he made at the Sept. 27 council meeting when he first raised this issue.
“The money that Seattle City Light is charging us in excess of its costs is costing Burien residents hundreds of dollars a year. That takes food out of the mouths of families and impedes economic progress by impacting local businesses.
“Families are faced with a hard choice of keeping their lights on or feeding their families. Seattle should not be allowed to improve its third-world infrastructure on the backs of City Light ratepayers – especially those ratepayers who live outside Seattle.
“That’s why we need this policy” of WUTC oversight of City Light, he added.
Following a court ruling that Seattle may not assess a utility tax on ratepayers outside the city limits, Block said Seattle imposed a 6 percent surcharge on non-resident utility customers.
“Utility customers outside the city’s corporate boundary are paying to subsidize Seattle’s budget,” he charged. “No one has called them on this. Mayor McGinn’s new rates [proposed for 2011] will go directly to balance Seattle’s budget.”
McGinn proposed utility rate increases last week to help reduce Seattle’s budget deficit. If approved, they would increase the monthly cost of power from City Light by $2.13 and the cost of water by $1.10.
City Light – the ninth largest electrical utility in America – is also making about 70 percent less than anticipated from sales of excess energy.
“Seattle City Light is a public utility,” Block noted. “It has no oversight by the WUTC like private utilities have. And unlike a public utility district or local sewer or water districts, it doesn’t have commissioners elected by the ratepayers.
“Rates are set by the city council. But customers outside Seattle have no say in how rates are set or what rate hikes should be. So when Seattle City Light raised rates by 18.3 percent earlier this year, Burien residents had no say.”
Now, he said, a 0.5 percent across-the-board City Light rate increase is coming this month, and if McGinn’s proposed hikes are approved the cost of power will go up another 4.3 percent next year and 4.2 percent in 2012.
“That’s why I want the Legislature to bring Seattle City Light under the jurisdiction of the WUTC, just like Puget Sound Energy is, so that Burien residents will have a say in how rates are set including rate hikes.”
Block wants enabling legislation that will bring under the jurisdiction of the WUTC public utilities like City Light, with customers located outside their corporate boundaries, so they may bill non-resident ratepayers only for the actual costs of providing service.
Although he is “in discussions” with Burien City Manager Mike Martin “about how to move forward with this if the council decides to go with this policy,” Block has not talked with legislators.
“First of all, I want to get my ducks in a row in our city. I will say that other elected officials beyond Burien consider this a serious inequity that affects not only Burien but other residents throughout the region that are served by City Light.”