MID to sift power bill surcharges

Directors of the Modesto Irrigation District will continue tinkering today with the way the utility charges for electricity.

The board will discuss proposed surcharges that reflect certain costs, such as the price of natural gas for power plants or the premium paid for renewable sources.

No decision is expected, but the board could refine its options for a future vote.

The board in January approved a general rate increase of 7 percent, less than the 11 percent proposed by the staff to cover costs and build reserves. The board agreed to consider surcharges to make up at least some of the gap.

The average home's monthly bill rose to $139.55 a month with the recent increase. Today, the staff will present these examples of how much the surcharges might add:

$1.36 to reflect the higher cost of renewable power, mainly wind and solar, compared with gas and other conventional sources. The district faces a state mandate to get at least 33 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2020.

$3.32 to cover the expected cost of complying with a state law aimed at curbing emissions believed to be changing the global climate. The MID likely will have to buy credits that reflect its use of fossil fuels. The credits would come from businesses and agencies that reduce their emissions.

$3.66 to reflect the cost of generating electricity, which varies with natural gas prices, the supply of cheap hydropower and other factors.

The examples add up to $8.34, bringing the average monthly bill to $147.89, but the surcharges could be more or less.

The staff suggests annual adjustments for the surcharges related to renewable energy and climate change. The other surcharge would change twice a year.

Several utilities in Northern California use surcharges. A Turlock Irrigation District levy changes with power supply costs.

The discussion is scheduled near the end of a meeting that includes several other notable topics. They include:

The first look at a proposed power plant that would burn orchard wood in the Beard Industrial District

A discussion on whether the Mountain House electricity service area, west of Tracy, was a wise investment for the MID

An $18.4 million construction contract related to the expansion of the gas-fueled plant on Woodland Avenue.

The board will meet at 9 a.m. today at the district office, 1231 11th St., Modesto.