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Utility should dump Nine Canyon

In the five years I’ve lived in Okanogan County, my power bill has continued to climb.

My rate increases, which amount to more than 45 percent since 2009, are due in part to the Okanogan County Public Utility District’s inability to rein in spending. It’s also due in part to the utility’s unwarranted push to buy wind-generated power.

The inability to rein in spending relates, in part, directly to the utility owning 24 percent of the Nine Canyon Wind Project near Kennewick.

Our utility district has been wasting ratepayer money buying into that project — approximately 5 percent of the electricity we use here comes from that expensive albatross of a project.

But recent federal developments could have an impact on wind energy purchases, and they will surely have an impact on what you and I pay for electricity. In short, the federal wind energy tax credit has expired. That means wind-farm energy — already the most expensive we pay for in Okanogan County — is likely to get more expensive.

The way I see it, our utility district has two choices: Get out of the wind farm business or pay an even higher price for electricity.

Wind farms previously received a federal tax credit of 2.3 cents for every kilowatt-hour produced. But with that money no longer coming in, wind-generated power will be far less competitive than it was previously, if you could call it competitive.

Nine Canyon, for example, reported an average cost of 7.9 cents per kilowatt-hour to generate in 2013. That’s more than double the cost of hydroelectric power. (Bonneville Power Administration figures show hydroelectric power cost an average of 3.1 cents per kwh to generate last year.)

Take away the 2.3-cent tax credit, and all of a sudden Nine Canyon wind-generated power is going to cost 10.2 cents, more than three times that of hydroelectric.

And who do you think is going to be asked to pay that additional amount? You guessed it, you and me.

Since the Okanogan County Public Utility District isn’t even close to being required by state law to use power from wind farms, it is clearly in the best interest of ratepayers — the true owners of the utility district — to get out of the wind farm business and get back to the basics of providing affordable energy.

This isn’t the first time the wind energy tax credit has expired, but hopefully it’s the last. In at least one previous year, the credit expired only to be revived by a liberal caucus threatened with losing financial support from the environmental lobby.

Getting out of the wind farm business would help heal the ailing finances of the utility district by eliminating the need to dump wind power when hydroelectric generation is at its peak.

And it would help ratepayers who have seen their power bills continually rise while their purchasing ability declines due to a stagnant economy.

The time has come to get out of the wind farm business.

Roger Harnack is the editor and publisher of The Chronicle. He can be reached at 509-826-1110 or via email at rharnack@omakchronicle.com.

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