What's going on at Seattle City Light?
No one needs to retell the story of our tattered economy. As a business person who lives and works here in Seattle, I think there is something you need to think about.
Times are tough for too many people. Senior citizens will not get a cost of living increase in their Social Security checks. Human services agencies are struggling to help an estimated 27,000 people in our city. Home foreclosures are occurring at a record pace.
The statistics also tell us that small businesses — the businesses that employ the most people are also struggling to make their payrolls and keep the lights on. In too many cases small businesses are barely surviving.
Yet each of us is doing his part to pull back, take another look at our budgets, sacrifice business as usual and tighten our belts.
But there’s one huge anomaly down at City Hall: Seattle City Light and runaway electric rates.
Just one year ago, the Seattle City Council overruled then-Mayor Nickels and raised electricity rates from his proposal for an 8.9% increase to — hold on — 13.8 percent. Mayor Nickels disagreed so strongly that he refused to sign the ordinance.
Then in March our rates went up another 4.5 percent as a “temporary” surcharge to create a fund to protect us from rate shocks. Yes, they raised rates to protect us from raising our rates. Go figure. So our electric rates went up over 18 percent in one year at a time of no inflation and dire economic conditions.
Imagine if you stopped by Ezell’s Famous Chicken (sorry about the plug!) and the clerk said, “By the way, we’ve raised our prices nearly 14 percent and now we’ve added a 4.5 percent surcharge because the price of chicken might go up someday. You don’t mind this do you?” Those of us at Ezell's know we make great chicken, but customers know when they’re being taken advantage of. They might not come back.
But that’s only half the story because when it comes to electricity, you can’t go down the street to another restaurant. City Light is the only game in town.
This week the city council is considering adding another 8.5 percent increase over the next two years. That means that even if the “temporary” surcharge goes away, our electric rates will have gone up by nearly 24 percent in just three years.
And, this brings us back to where we started. There are few city services as essential as electricity. The cost of electricity falls heaviest on those with the lowest incomes. Now, the people and organizations who can least afford to watch their electric bills shoot through the ceiling were clobbered by the 13.8 percent increase last November. Then they got whacked again by the 4.5 percent last March. And now, brace yourselves again. Another 4.3 percent this coming January and still another 4.2 percent in January 2012.
We’re all in this together. Whether you’re on a fixed income or struggling to keep your business open or just trying to save enough cash to buy that one nice Christmas present, none of us can afford runaway electricity costs. Please join in telling the council that it’s time for City Light to tighten its belt and this is not the time for more regressive rate increases.