Chugach Electric’s proposed price hike alarms advocacy groups

Chugach Electric's proposed price hike alarms advocacy groups
Published: Jul. 5, 2023 at 8:34 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Advocacy groups are speaking out after Chugach Electric Association Inc. announced it’s looking to increase its electric rates as soon as this fall. A press release sent out by the association says that a recent required review of base rates calls for a 5.9% increase in total for bills — but before that takes effect, the company has also requested an interim increase of 3.6% beginning in September.

Chugach Electric says the review increases the rates due to inflation, supply chain disruptions, and declining energy sales.

Groups with concerns about the hike say it’s critical for consumers to engage in the upcoming public comment period by the Regulatory Commission of Alaska.

“It’s a huge impact for folks who are living paycheck to paycheck and it’s not a casual increase, that’s not an increase you can just absorb without having to re-budget or refocus your priorities,” said Veri Di Suvero, the executive director for the Alaska Public Interest Research Group. “So it’s really important that the consumers know about this and that they’re prepared to comment on it and make sure that the regulatory commission understands the impact of what they’re approving.”

Di Suvero believes the rate hike is substantial and is worried it could break some peoples’ budgets.

“AKPIRG is concerned that this is making the price of living even harder when housing prices, fuel prices, food prices, everything is pretty expensive right now so we’re especially worried for low-income folks making sure everyone’s able to make ends meet,” Di Suvero said.

The Renewable Energy Alaska Project already plans to intervene in the case and will propose a rate structure that they hope will conserve Cook Inlet natural gas.

“We really are going to be running short of Cook Inlet natural gas very soon and we need to develop alternatives. Although the utilities believe that renewables can’t make a meaningful impact on Cook Inlet natural gas, it’s just because they’re not thinking very big,” said Antony Scott, the commercial manager for the Renewable Energy Alaska Project.

One of the group’s ideas is to set rates that rise as members consume more energy, rather than using flat rates. The goal behind this is to incentivize people to use low amounts of energy, therefore preserving Cook Inlet gas.

Julie Hasquet, the senior manager for corporate communications for Chugach Electric, believes the price hike is justified. She emphasized that in the past six years, there have been significant increases in costs in all aspects of life.

“If you look at the consumer price index for urban Alaska, gasoline in six years has gone up 42%, dairy and others 28%, fruits and vegetable 27%, rent 13%,” Hasquet said.

There’s a webpage dedicated to the rate case. Newsletters and public sessions will also be available to explain the rate hike to Chugach Electric members.

“We always aim to keep our rates as low as possible while still keeping our system maintained so it can reliably provide power to our members,” Hasquet said. “We have consistently had the lowest rates in the Railbelt and do what we can to keep costs low.”