Even With Looming BPA Hike, UEC Rates Among Lowest in Nation

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UEC General Manager and CEO Robert Echenrode updates the Hermiston City Council Monday night. (Photo by Michael Kane)

Umatilla Electric Cooperative’s general manager updated the Hermiston City Council on several topics Monday night, including potential rate changes and a program to help replace aging, energy-draining mobile homes.

Robert Echenrode said the Bonneville Power Administration’s expected rate increase in October could impact electric rates early next year.

“UEC was able to absorb the last BPA rate increase of 5.4 percent,” Echenrode told the council. “You may have read that there has been a flat cost of power, but there’s been an increase of about 2.6 percent in transmission costs. That falls to us. I cannot say that we can absorb it again.”

Echenrode said the UEC board and staff “will be working very hard to keep any impact as low as possible. But I would not lead you to believe that there will not be a rate impact early next year.” He added, however, that impact would not affect everyone served by UEC.

UEC’s general manager said the co-op’s revenues continue to be on solid ground.

“UEC is 25th out of 814 electric coops in the nation in sales,” he said. “We just sold 2.5 million megawatt hours and expect to hit 3 million megawatt hours by the end of the year. The average among co-ops in the U.S. is around 329,000. So the economic engine in Hermiston and Umatilla County is phenomenal.”

Echenrode said compared to the national average, UEC’s rates are among the lowest 2 percent in the nation at an average of 8.2 cents per kilowatt hour with the national co-op average at 12.3 cents.

UEC has also applied for a zero-percent loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to assist in the cost of residents to replace their aging manufactured homes that do not meet current energy standards.

Echenrode said UEC has a higher percentage of manufactured homes in their service district than most co-ops in the country. In the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter, owners of older mobile homes can face monthly energy bills in the hundreds of dollars.

UEC helped get Oregon House Bill 2896 passed that will provide $2.5 million in grants to replace older mobile homes with newer, more energy-efficient homes. The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Bill Hansell (R-Athena) and Rep. Greg Smith (R-Heppner). The bill also sets aside money to help preserve mobile home parks.

Echenrode said UEC is seeking partnerships with BPA, state and federal agencies to assist with the program

“It’s very expensive to replace some of these homes,” he said. “We want to find a way for these people to lower their energy costs.”

Mayor Dave Drotzmann commended Echenrode and UEC for their role in spurring Hermiston’s continued growth.

“We appreciate UEC’s partnership with the city,” he said. “UEC is key to our economic development and providing our residents with affordable electricity.”

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