Washington utility commission staff thinks Avista's proposed rate increases are too steep

click to enlarge Washington utility commission staff thinks Avista's proposed rate increases are too steep
Young Kwak photo
Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission staff disagree with rate hikes proposed by Avista and have suggested lower increases for electric and natural gas customers that could start next year.
Staff members that work for the Washington state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) have recommended that the commission not approve natural gas and electricity rate increases as proposed by Avista.

In April, Avista asked the commission to approve a two-year rate plan that would increase the average residential electric customer's bill by $7.93 per month and the average residential natural gas customer's bill by $4.60 per month.

Those figures are based on Avista's proposed 8.8 percent increase for electricity the first year and another 3.4 percent the second year, and a 10.1 percent increase for natural gas the first year and 4.6 percent the second year.

Instead, UTC staff, which makes recommendations to the commission that the three-member body can choose to follow or not, has suggested a smaller increase that would raise the average residential electric bill by $4.72 per month and the average residential natural gas bill by $2.97 per month. That drops the yearly increase for natural gas and electricity to between 1.4 percent and 5.5 percent each of the two years.

According to UTC staff, the commission is expected to make its final decision on the utility’s rate request next spring and new rates would go into effect in April 2020.

So far, the commission has received 90 comments on the proposed increase, with 89 comments made against the higher ask, and one undecided.

Groups that have weighed in against the rate increase include the Northwest Citizens Power Coalition, whose more than 100 members include former Spokane County Treasurer Rob Chase and retired accountant Michael Bell. The group tried to get "intervenor" status in the case, but were denied earlier this year, as the UTC staff is similarly meant to represent the interests of public customers.

Avista customers can comment on the proposed increase at a public meeting at 6 pm, Monday Oct. 28, at the Northeast Community Center, 4001 E. Cook St.

Comments can also be submitted online at utc.wa.gov/comments; by mail to P.O. Box 47250, Olympia, WA, 98504; by email [email protected]; or by calling 1-888-333-9882. (The docket numbers are UE-190334 and UG-190335).

Meanwhile in Idaho, Avista has also proposed a 3.5 percent rate increase that translates to about $2.89 extra per month for an average home. In that separate rate increase case with Idaho's Public Utilities Commission, groups including the Idaho Conservation League have urged that Avista keep rates the same using some of the $103 million termination fee the company received from its recent failed merger attempt.

“Avista has a clear choice in this rate case. The utility can either benefit its customers or ignore them to benefit its shareholders,” says Matt Nykiel, ICL’s conservation associate in Sandpoint, in a statement. “We think Avista should use money from its failed merger with Hydro One last year to fund energy savings programs for its customers and keep rates from going up.”

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Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...