September 25, 2009 in City

Avista holding public hearings on rate increase

Utility, state commission won’t have details on proposals
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Tags:Avista
Wednesday’s public hearings

• 12:30 p.m. in Spokane Valley City Council chambers, 11707 E. Sprague Ave.

• 5:30 p.m. at Spokane City Council chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Members of the public will get two chances Wednesday to air their views on Avista Corp.’s request to boost electric and natural gas rates.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will conduct public hearings in Spokane and Spokane Valley. But neither the commission nor Avista will say how customers’ rates would be affected by the most recent proposal in the ongoing case. While the parties reached a partial settlement on Sept. 4, talks are ongoing over several disputed areas.

“We don’t have new rates. Nobody’s going to put together numbers until it’s all settled,” said Marilyn Meehan, a commission spokeswoman. “It’s a moving target, and it will likely change.”

However, ratepayers are “certainly welcome to tell us their thoughts on the original request,” she said.

Nearly 1,800 Avista customers already have. Fifteen supported the proposal, 22 were undecided and 1,759 opposed the rate hike, according to comments received by the commission.

Avista originally asked for an additional $69.8 million in electricity revenues, which would have boosted customers’ rates by an average of 8.6 percent. The proposed $4.92 million boost in gas revenues would have raised rates an average of 2.4 percent.

The plan would raised hiked the average homeowner’s monthly electricity bill by about $7, and their monthly gas bill by about $2.

The partial settlement, if adopted as is, would cut Avista’s proposed electricity revenue increase by nearly half. The hike in natural gas rates would drop by almost 40 percent. But Meehan said the effect on residential bills won’t be recalculated at this time.

“I think it’s dangerous to put things out there since it’s a moving target,” she said. “We might lead people to believe it’s a final number.”

Through the partial settlement, the parties reached agreement over Avista’s funding for low-income programs, power supply costs and cost of capital. Unresolved issues include the terms of a contract for purchasing power from the Lancaster generating plant on the Rathdrum Prairie, as well as labor and tree-trimming costs.

In December, the three-member Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will make a decision on Avista’s rate request.

Wholesale prices for natural gas have dropped sharply to their lowest prices in seven years. In a separate matter, Avista last week asked state regulators for permission to pass those savings on to customers. If the request goes through, a typical household would see an average monthly savings of $16.

About 75 percent of customers’ bills reflect Avista’s cost of purchasing natural gas. The remaining 25 percent reflects the utility’s delivery costs, which is the portion of the bill Avista is trying to raise through the current rate case.

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