(The following article is an opinion piece and does not necessarily reflect the views of iFIBER ONE News, iFIBER Communications, or it’s staff)
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners have been reviewing, discussing, and attending meetings regarding the Douglas PUD’s proposed Power Rate Delivery Fee Assessment which will not only impact proposed new developments like Microsoft, but well-established large power users already doing businesses in Douglas County, too. As Commissioners, we have a responsibility and commitment to the citizens we serve to ensure that Douglas County is strong and vibrant in every way possible - now and well into the future.
From our perspective, the suggestion that large companies like Microsoft and Sabey seeking to invest and do business in Douglas County is being done by the subsidizing of the PUD’s other ratepayers is simply not accurate. In fact, investment by companies like these represents an enormous economic benefit to each and every resident in Douglas County - just as it is for those in neighboring counties like Grant and Chelan. We also believe it’s important to emphasize that Douglas County taxpayers and PUD ratepayers are by and large one-in-the-same.
It’s important to consider:
• Microsoft will be purchasing power on the open market and not from Douglas PUD. Therefore, not impacting the capacity produced from Wells Dam.
• Microsoft has committed to paying the PUD to construct the infrastructure necessary to deliver the future power needs - an estimated $24.9 million investment. Again, this will not be subsidized or borne by the utility or we as the Douglas PUD ratepayers.
• The PUD has voted an approval to assess Microsoft a rate to deliver the electricity it purchases on the open market by way of the PUD-owned transmission assets (wheeling rate). The wheel rate is the assessment cost for transmission across PUD lines. The PUD’s new rate of transmission will assess Microsoft at 10X the current rate. Microsoft has expressed they are a willing to partner with the PUD at a rate structure that is fair and competitive.
• While projecting levy rates is a complicated task with many variables, the proposed Microsoft development plan, which is estimated at $1 Billion in total assessed value, is anticipated to decrease citizen levy rates from $11.5153 to $9.7049 per $1,000 of assessed value. For example, in 2021, a homeowner with an assessed value of $400,000 would pay $4,606 in property taxes. After factoring in Microsoft’s development, the property tax on that same home would decrease to $3,882 – a $724 savings. The tax and levy savings aren’t just limited to the taxing district where these companies are investing. This shift in tax burden would have county-wide benefit - both urban and rural.
• The PUD’s decision to impose the transmission wheeling rate as proposed is anticipated to have a long lasting budgetary impact to all service districts within Douglas County. Just as tax assessments would decrease with large data center developments, they have the potential to increase with the absence of comparable companies.
• The Microsoft development has already paid $4 Million to the Douglas County Water District for a new pump station in a public / private partnership grant, and is anticipated to contribute $15.5 Million if all phases of the project are completed; providing approximately $175,000 in building permit fees – again an enormous benefit to us all.
In a recent community discussion, we think it’s important to note, Microsoft reiterated they are committed to paying their fair share. They are simply asking for a competitive rate that is fair and justifiable for all ratepayers. They were clear in that they do not want to burden the PUD or ratepayers in any way.
Lastly, economic drivers like Sabey and Microsoft help to generate significant and ongoing sales and use tax revenue, allowing Douglas County, through the .09 Rural Counties Sales & Use Tax Credit, to allocate more funds earmarked for economic development to our communities – small and large. For example, in 2020 we were able to award $550,000 to the City of Bridgeport to help support the funding of a much-needed secondary water reservoir. Without companies like Sabey and other businesses who are invested in our County, this simply would not be possible at such a level.
Continued investment into Douglas County through attracting businesses like Sabey, Microsoft and others is crucial to the creation of family wage jobs. According to the US Chamber of Commerce’s, Data Centers Economic Report, a data center that is 167,000 s/f will create 157 jobs (direct, indirect and induced) during normal operations. During construction the number is 1,688 (direct, indirect and induced). Following the development of the data center it is anticipated for every full time staff member Microsoft employs in Douglas County, this is anticipated to create 5 additional ancillary jobs within our county.
The ability to fund needed infrastructure improvements; and to keep our county vibrant, healthy, and with a quality of life unrivaled. Economic vitality helps to fund our communities’ school districts, emergency responders, veteran services, fire and parks districts, the local library and more.
We fully appreciate and respect that the Douglas PUD commissioners and staff are charged with protecting and guiding the utility now and into the future. We have simply asked that, as they grapple with setting these new power rates, particularly the transmission rates, they keep this resource competitive with neighboring utilities so that Douglas County remains attractive for economic development well into the future.
Douglas County Commissioners