OUTAGE at Hugo plant could mean higher electric bills for some Oklahomans

Friday, July 6th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ An outage at a coal-burning power plant in Hugo will affect how much more than 500,000 customers, located mostly in southern Oklahoma, pay for electricity this summer.

The facility shut down June 10 when a steam turbine halted. A new rotor has been ordered from Virginia, but it could be mid-August or longer before the plant is operating again, officials said Thursday.

The Hugo Power Plant is one of three operated by Western Farmers Electric Cooperative, which provides power for 19 member co-ops and Altus Air Force Base.

Western Farmers' other generation and transmission plants in Anadarko and Mooreland use natural gas furnaces to power the steam-driven generators. Additional electricity is routinely purchased from various hydro-power plants.

Since the Hugo plant is off line during the peak summer demand, Western Farmers Electric Cooperative is having to produce more power at its two natural gas-fueled plants, which is more costly than power produced by coal. It also is having to purchase power on the open market.

The increased cost is passed on to its member cooperatives, Western Farmers spokeswoman Sondra Boykin said Thursday. If the cooperative passes that cost on to individual users, the average residential customer could see the 20 percent increase for July and August usage, or until the Hugo plant is fixed.

``WFEC is working with the distribution cooperatives to try to mitigate the impact that the Hugo outage will have on the end-use customer,'' said Jim Shafer, chief executive officer for Western Farmers. ``This situation is not like the one in California. We have the supply available to meet our peak summertime load requirements.''

Most of Western Farmers' co-ops serve rural communities, but some reach into bigger cities. The biggest member user is Oklahoma Electric Cooperative at Norman. It has 36,000 customers in Norman and south Oklahoma City.

Max Meek, OEC's chief executive officer, said Thursday that the cost increase would be passed on to its customers, but would be spread out over six months and reflect only 6 to 8 percent more than normal.

A household that uses 2000 kilowatts of electricity per month (about average for Norman customers) can expect about $14 more on their electric bills for July and August, and $8 to $10 the remaining four months, Meek said.

Bob Weaver, spokesman for Canadian Valley Electric's office near Seminole, said management is monitoring the extent of the Hugo plant's outage before notifying customers of any rate change.

Canadian Valley's manager, George Hand, said some type of rate increase will be necessary, but he doubted his customers would see anywhere near a 20 percent increase. Additional costs would be only for the time the Hugo plant is down, he said.

Hand urged customers to conserve electricity when possible.

``By far, the biggest thing that makes electric bills go up is hot weather in the Oklahoma summertime,'' Land said.

Hugo City Manager Jerry Taylor said the downed plant is having little impact on his city so far. The Hugo plant is one of the town's major employers. The 95 employees are still on the job, using the downtime to catch up on other maintenance. Taylor said a prolonged plant outage could hurt.

Western Farmers, headquartered at Anadarko, was organized in 1941. It is the state's largest locally owned electric utility.