The Peninsula Light Co. raised its rates in April for the first time since 2012, Jonathan White, director of member services and marketing, told the April meeting of the Key Peninsula Community Council.
Penlight’s board of directors approved a 5.5 percent increase at its October 2015 meeting in response to new increases from the Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), White said. The increase was delayed until April to avoid a larger impact on Penlight members in the more expensive winter months.
The board also approved a $3 increase to the monthly base charge that went into effect Jan. 1.
"BPA raised the price 5.7 percent for energy and 4.4 percent for transmission," said White. BPA reviews its rates every two years and Penlight absorbed their last increase in 2013, he said.
The total increase is expected to add an average of $7.44 to a residential member’s bill, which is currently estimated at $88.44 for an average use of 1,285 kilowatt-hours per month, according to the Penlight website.
"Some folks on the KP social media claimed that we raised rates in January, then lowered them, then raised them again," said White. "Our board sets policy. We cannot arbitrarily change billings rates."
Penlight is a member-owned, nonprofit cooperative that has been serving the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsulas for 90 years, he said.
White also said he understood this is a hardship for some members.
"Penlight has the Project Help program to assist low-income people, seniors, people with disabilities," he said. That program gives up to $200 each to 525 families a year, paid half with donations from members and half from the board of directors, he said.
Members can donate to Project Help every month by rounding up their bills to the nearest dollar through the "Round Up" program.
"We raise about $70,000 a year that way," he said.
Penlight also coordinates with faith-based and other charitable organizations, including Chapel Hill Presbyterian in Gig Harbor, the Pierce County Low Income Energy Assistance program, Children's Home Society in Vaughn, St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army to help its members pay their bills.
"There's so much need that we've got to stretch it out the best we can," White said. "It's tough. You see what comes in the front door at Peninsula Light Company, people who are in serious need, people who have medical issues, who are out of work. It's just a real heartbreaking thing. You hate to turn anybody away."