Free electricity. It's a perk enjoyed by private and commercial boat owners at the Ventura Harbor Village Marina for as long as anyone can remember.
And it's about to end.
The statewide power crunch that has swelled monthly electricity bills for residents and business owners has forced the Ventura Port District to end its longtime practice of paying monthly energy bills for boats docked at the 167-slip marina. Monthly rates could range as low as $10 for some private boat owners to more than $200 for large commercial fishing vessels.
"I'm not surprised," said Kristine Callahan, who lives aboard a sailboat. "I figured we eventually would have to pay. They weren't going to keep giving [electricity] away. They finally caught up with us."
Beginning Aug. 1, the Port District will charge slip tenants for the power they use.
If the action were not taken, port officials estimated, annual costs for power used by the boaters would jump 15% to 20% over last year's $70,000 bill.
It's that kind of number that makes Port District officials nervous and eager to cut costs, said Rick Echevarria, facilities manager for the district.
A study by the district's accounting department found that passing the higher electrical costs on to those using the power could mean a 75% drop in the marina's annual energy bill, Echevarria said.
Never underestimate the power of people to conserve when it hits their wallet, said Nancy Williams, a spokeswoman for Southern California Edison, calling the district's plan a good one.
"It's more than just the energy crisis. It's the sign of the times," she said. "People won't conserve until it starts hitting their pocketbooks. You use it, you pay for it."
Port officials looked at various ways to cut rising power costs before deciding to have tenants pay their own electricity bills.
"In the past the slip rates had always paid for the electricity bills," Echevarria said. "Electricity was always cheap. But it has gotten out of hand. Do we increase [slip] rates and make everybody pay for it?"
Callahan and other boat owners agreed that it has been nice to use electricity without worrying about the monthly bill. They also acknowledged that the practice was rare and was bound to end.
Most harbors in California charge boaters for electricity use, port officials said. In Ventura Harbor, privately managed marinas charge boaters for power.
Jerry Pool lives aboard his powerboat anchored behind his yacht sales business on the marina.
He estimates that his monthly bill will top out at about $200. "But it's no big deal for me," he says.
"I want to see the harbor make money," Pool said. "If they make money, I will make money. The Port District still pays for water. People waste a lot of stuff."