Budget hits record $600 million at PUD

For the first time, keeping the lights on will cost more than $600 million in Snohomish County and on Camano Island.

Snohomish County PUD will spend most of that money to buy electricity for all the new homes and businesses that have come knocking on the public utility district’s door this year.

“I guess it’s just an indicator of the growth in the county,” said Glenn McPherson, the PUD’s assistant general manager of finance. “We’ve just experienced tremendous growth.”

The public utility’s board met this week to revise its 2006 budget, adding $9 million to increase the budget from $596 million to $605 million.

The utility is more than making up for the $9 million addition by getting more than expected out of its hydroelectric resources, McPherson said.

“We have had a stronger than expected water year,” he said.

At the beginning of the year the utility had projected that there would be 7,800 new electrical connections made in 2006. That figure has been revised to 8,400.

Last year the utility eclipsed the 300,000-customer mark, and it expects to reach 310,000 customers by the end of the year, McPherson said.

Despite the bigger budget, rates are not expected to go up, McPherson said, explaining that making multimillion-dollar midyear budget adjustments is routine when spending hundreds of millions of dollars on electricity.

The PUD flirted with the $600 million mark in 2001 and 2002, even going so far as planning to spend $602 million in 2002.

But the economic downturn that came after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and aggressive electricity conservation brought on by a large rate hike in 2001 led to the budget being scaled down to $550 million by the end of 2002.

The PUD has been riding a construction boom that has grown with each year.

“It shows the county and community is coming back after the drop from 9/11,” said Kathy Vaughn, president of the PUD commission. “It’s a good sign.”

Some of the cost run up can also be linked to the surge of new Snohomish County homes that have air conditioners, a relatively new phenomenon here, McPherson said.

All those air conditioners kicked on this past summer when temperatures climbed near 100 degrees, forcing the utility to buy extra power. Typically it’s the winter months when the PUD has to buy extra electricity, McPherson said.

Reporter Lukas Velush: 425-339-3449 or lvelush@heraldnet.com.

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