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Councilwoman Kshama Sawant wants to cut your light bill by making big business pay more

Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant wants companies like Boeing to pay the same Seattle City Light rates as residents. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
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Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant says it’s been business as usual to see annual rate increases from Seattle City Light, but this year she wants to stand up against it.

“We’re saying that they [rates] should not be going up, especially in light of the fact that people, ordinary households, are reeling under the recession,” Sawant tells KIRO Radio’s Jason Rantz. “Many of them are facing low-wage job situations, some of them are jobless, and rents are skyrocketing. On top of that, we don’t need these costs going up as well.”

According to the City Light Strategic Plan, the average increase proposed for customers is 4.4 percent annually through 2020.

Now, the councilwoman says they don’t want to take money away from Seattle City Light’s operations, so where would the additional money come from?

In doing their research, Sawant says they found something shocking, that they think could be the solution.

“The most stunning fact in this whole issue is that when we did research into how the rates are structured, if you look at how much is paid per kilowatt hour, it turns out that big corporations like Boeing pay less than you and I do.”

According to a release sent out promoting Sawant’s public hearing on the issue, based on the average energy rates per kilowatt hour for users in 2013, a residential customer would be charged $67.28 to operate an 800 kWh refrigerator for one year, while a corporation would be charged $43.67 to operate the same appliance.

Sawant sees this as the area that the utility can make up the difference. “All we’re saying is everybody should pay equal. We don’t want residential customers to be paying more than large corporations.”

If rates were structured so that everyone, residential customers and big business, paid the same rates, Sawant says households would end up paying less than what they’re looking at with the current proposed rate increases.

“So what we’re proposing is, let’s at least have the City Council commit to setting that change so that starting in 2016, the rates are structured in a fair manner.”

Having big business pay the same rate as residential customers might also lead to a little more conservation, says Sawant.

“City Light does really well in explaining to residential customers that we need to conserve and really supports that, but if Boeing is not given an incentive to also conserve energy, then they end up spending a lot of energy because they’re paying very low rates.”

So far, Sawant says it’s been difficult finding support for the proposal among some of her fellow City Council members.

“You have to remember that a lot of politicians in the city government are beholden to the big corporations, so they’re not eager to make this change.”

But there is one area where the idea is gaining a lot of support, she says.

“I think that who is eager and from whom we are getting a lot of traction is the community, the people in Seattle,” says Sawant.

“I haven’t met a single person who wasn’t sort of shocked to find out that Boeing is paying less than they are, and they are quite angry about that. They say we need to reverse the situation because everybody is feeling the pinch,” says Sawant. “Your housing costs are skyrocketing, food costs are going up, and people are finding it very hard to make ends meet. Then, you’re faced with increasing electricity rates, increasing utility rates. We need for this to stop somewhere.”

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