Hat Islanders may have to pay for new power cable

EVERETT — Electricity customers on Hat Island might find themselves having to pay for a new underwater cable to bring power to their homes, and they’re not happy about it.

The Snohomish County Public Utility District is considering a plan to charge island customers more than $20,000 apiece over 60 years to pay for a new three-mile cable. The casing on the current cable, extended to the island in 1973, is beginning to crack, according to the PUD.

Residents of the tiny island in Possession Sound packed a meeting of the Snohomish County PUD board of directors Tuesday to express their displeasure with the plan. The commission is expected to vote on the plan at its Nov. 6 meeting.

“I can’t screw my customers like that, and if I could, I wouldn’t,” said Shirley Allen, who said she runs a business in Everett and owns a second home on Hat Island, which has a year-round population of about 40.

The plan calls for customers to pay a 59 cents per day surcharge beginning in 2013, in addition to their regular electric bills. The surcharge would increase 3 percent annually, with the amount compounding each year.

The new cable costs an estimated $6.5 million. The PUD is charging the residents $5.9 million, officials said.

The cost would be split among the 286 power customers on the island.

“It is a big number,” said Chuck Motson, who manages the island for the Hat Island Community Association.

If the eventual cost of the cable is less or more than originally estimated, if some of the customers move away or if more people move to the island to share the cost, the surcharge would be adjusted after 12 years.

The utility plans an interim fix by injecting the casing with a silicone goo that will expand and keep the water out, but this is expected to last only eight to 12 years, PUD officials say.

The interim fix will cost about $800,000. The PUD would cover that cost and it would not be part of the surcharge.

Island residents noted that the PUD normally spreads costs of large projects evenly among customers throughout the entire system.

“The whole point of public power was to bring power to the far-flung, remote areas of this state,” Ginger Harmon told the PUD commission and staff on Tuesday. Other speakers from Hat Island made similar points.

Only one speaker of about 15 — Rud Okeson, of Edmonds, — supported the plan, saying it would be unfair to the PUD’s other 320,000 customers to cover the cost.

Steve Klein, PUD general manager, said the cost of extending power to the island is exponentially greater than in other parts of the PUD’s service area because it’s under water.

Hat Island residents paid a surcharge on their bills from 1973 to 1983 to cover the cost of the original cable. Before that cable was installed, from Mission Beach at Tulalip to the island, island residents used diesel generators for power, Motson said.

The surcharge was supposed to continue in perpetuity to build a fund to eventually pay for a new cable. The PUD, however, mistakenly discontinued the charge in 1983.

Island residents said if they’d been paying the surcharge as they should have been, the new charge wouldn’t be necessary.

“And now you come back 30 years late and ask us to catch up,” Motson said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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