School energy costs are soaringThe district's power bill could climb by 75 percent next year.

"The Bainbridge Island School District's energy bill for the coming year is likely to increase by 75 percent - skyrocketing from $510,000 to $892,500, officials say.In the five years I've been on the school board, a year (in which we) lost $300,000 was a very upsetting situation, school board member Bruce Weiland said. This is the third or fourth shoe to drop - and it's a boot.It was another potential financial blow for the district, which has had to contend with budget shortfalls this year because of lower than anticipated enrollment.District Facilities Manager Richard Best told the board of the soaring power bill at last Thursday's board meeting, as the board budgets for the coming year.District officials must project the 2001-02 budget without much information from its power utility, Puget Sound Energy, about next year's rate structure. As a result, the district is budgeting by analogy. Puget Sound Energy is being evasive, Best told the board. We have had to look to other entities, like Seattle City Light and Tacoma Public Utilities, to project a budget for next year... In projecting a 75 percent budget increase, I am being conservative; Seattle City Lights is actually calling for an 80 percent increase.PSE representatives attributed their inability to provide budgetary information, Best said, to wildly fluctuating wholesale energy costs. California's inability to sell power to the Northwest - shortages in that state resulted in rolling blackouts last month - has forced regional utilities into the expensive spot market. Prices varied in December and January from $80 to $3,000 per megawatt hour, Best said. He also cited dry Pacific Northwest weather as contributing to the anticipated rising cost of energy; snowpack and stream flow at 60 percent of normal mean less water to generate hydropower. The good news, according to Best, is that energy conservation measures implemented earlier in the school year have kept the district under budget for energy for 2000-2001. The district is taking further steps to power down, in response to Gov. Gary Locke's call for government agencies to conserve energy.Although the district can not, by law, set the thermostat lower than 65 degrees, even turning the heat down one degree translates to reducing energy expenditures by three percent - or $15,300. The board is well aware of the tremendous efforts that we have made to conserve energy consumption and thereby lower costs, Best said. As you know, however, we will continue to be greatly impacted by the regional energy crisis - which has great bearing on our future financial outlook, and calls for continued efforts to minimize energy use in our schools. "

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