Fall in Enumclaw means pumpkin spice, autumn leaves, and utility rate increases.
As previously reported, residents who are on the city’s natural gas utility will start to see a large increase in their annual bill starting Nov. 1 in order for the city to comply with the 2021 Climate Commitment Act.
The city council also approved an increase for solid waste services during its Oct. 24 meeting, and waived water and sewer utility rate increases.
Here’s what you and your wallet can expect come next month and January 2023.
NATURAL GAS UTILITY HIKE, X2
Not only will local natural gas bill be sharply increasing due to the Climate Commitment Act in November, but the city council also approved a separate rate increase back in March that will continue to increase prices every January through 2026.
The CCA, a state bill, aims reduce Washington’s overall carbon emissions gradually over the next few decades to become fully carbon-neutral by 2060. To do so, the bill requires companies and utilities that emit carbon gas (like Enumclaw’s natural gas utility) to purchase an emission “allowance” (in other words, the ability to emit a certain amount of carbon gas) four times a year through an auction process.
Over time, those allowances will both shrink and become more expensive, encouraging entities to find alternatives to provide their services without emitting carbon gas.
Money from the allowances will go toward green energy programs, like grants aimed at reducing transportation emissions, supporting renewable energy tech and infrastructure, and funding the working families tax credit.
At this time, nothing is set in stone, but Enumclaw expects natural gas prices will have to increase by 23% on Nov. 1 in order for the city to have enough tax revenue to participate in the carbon gas allowance auction.
For the average natural gas customer (who uses 654 therms a year), that means their annual bill will increase $131, from $595 to $726.
And as those carbon gas allowances get more expensive, the city estimates annual natural gas bills will continue to increase by as much as 0.9% every year for the next seven years, resulting in an estimated $338 increase to bills in 2030.
“We are evaluating options for reducing the shock of this increase, but it is best for customers to prepare for the full impact,” City Administrator Chris Searcy said in an email interview. “We will be placing the title of this new charge: CCA Emissions Charge, on the bills for October but without any charges. This is to make sure it is set up for the November bills which customers will receive during the first week of December.”
But wait, there’s more — back in March, the city council approved additional rate increases because Enumclaw was told it had become too dependent on natural gas sales, rather than the fixed cost of service, throwing the city’s natural gas utility’s budget out of whack.
(City utilities, by law, can’t “make” money; they can only acquire just enough revenue to cover expenses, and Enumclaw’s reliance on gas sales meant the utility wasn’t bringing in enough revenue).
As such, the city adjusted both its volumetric rate (as in, price per therm) and its service charges (a fixed rate) last April, but both would increase another 2.5% every year from 2023 to 2026.
SOLID WASTE INCREASE
When the city began its 2023 budget season last August, King County told Enumclaw that it planned to increase solid waste service rates by 9.6%. The increase, a city agenda bill reads, is for funding various county capital improvement projects like new transfer stations and various other initiatives to promote recycling and lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Enumclaw can’t eat that sort of cost on its own, so the city is having to pass it on to its residents with a 9% increase.
“We are… currently operating with a positive margin so that helps us avoid a larger increase,” Searcy said.
According to the city, this means starting January 2023, a typical residential customer (who uses a 32-gallon garbage bin and 96-gallon recycling and yard waste containers) will pay an extra $4.12 a month, increasing the bill from $45.70 to around $49.82.
WATER AND SEWER WAIVERS
Around this time of year, Enumclaw looks at the Seattle-Tacoma Consumer Price Index in order to adjust its water and sewer rates for inflation.
This year, that means an 8% increase in those rates — except that city staff believes that both the water and sewer utility budgets will be balanced with their current rates and reserve funds, meaning a rate increase is not necessary.
Turning down an 8% increase means forgoing $286,000 in additional revenue for the water utility, and about $365,000 for the sewer utility.