West Oregon Electric Co-op offices in Vernonia. Photo: Chas Hundley

Beginning in the new year, members of the West Oregon Electric Co-op (WOEC) will see an increase in their electricity bills.

In a letter to the WOEC membership, the co-op noted that, after a decision by the co-op’s board of directors, increased pricing will be effective Jan. 1, with the new prices reflected in bills sent beginning in February 2021. 

“While reviewing the budget and planning for 2021, it was obvious a rate/base increase was overdue, so several proposals were made and a vote taken in the November meeting,” WOEC District 5 director Erika Paleck said in an email to the Banks Post. 

Paleck’s district covers Timber and communities along Timber Road in Columbia County and portions of Buxton.

For class 1 residential members, the base charge will increase by $4 to $46 per month. The distribution charge will also increase by $0.06 per kilowatt-hour.

“Rural Electric Cooperatives work on a cost basis; we charge just what it costs us to provide the service. As our costs changes the price that we charge should also change,” the co-op said in the letter. 

With the increase in price, the block 1 rate will be $0.16430 per kWh and block 2 rates (above 1500 kWh in a month) will be $0.12910.

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According to the co-op, an average user at 980 kWh per month could expect to see a 5.1% increase in cost amounting to just under $10 a month. 

Base rates for small and large commercial members are also going up $4, with the new monthly cost being $54 and $110 respectively. The small commercial block 1 rate will be $0.1686 kWh, while the block 2 rate will be $0.1452 kWh. Large commercial rates will be $0.1496 kWh and $0.0986 kWh.

Efforts have been made by some members to explore cost reduction to tackle the high price of electricity for WOEC members, considered among the highest for co-ops in Oregon. Some ideas that have been explored include selling off portions of the Vernonia-headquartered WOEC territory to neighboring utility companies such as Portland General Electric.

The unique geography of the WOEC district — forested, mountainous, and noncontiguous — is a factor in the high cost, with some of the most remote regions of northwest Oregon served by the co-op.  

According to the WOEC website, the co-op was founded in 1944 in Vernonia, combining several smaller co-op’s and Vernonia’s Oregon Gas & Electric Company to reach communities that had poor or no access to electricity.