August 18, 2014 in Business, Region

Avista settles on 2015 rate increases

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Avista rate hearings
Aug. 26, 6-7:30 p.m., Spokane Council Chambers, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.
Aug. 27, 12-1:30 p.m,. Spokane Valley Council Chambers, 11707 E. Sprague Ave.

Avista plans to raise rates again this winter, but not as high as the Spokane-based utility had proposed six months ago.

A typical customer in Washington would pay $2.10 more for electricity and $3.62 more for natural gas each month starting Jan. 1, 2015, under a negotiated rate settlement announced today.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission would need to approve the settlement before the rate hikes take effect this coming winter. Customers can weigh in on the proposal at two hearings next week.

A residential customer using an average of 965 kilowatt hours per month would see a 2.6 percent total bill increase, to $82.19. That includes a proposed 50-cent increase in the monthly basic charge, to $8.50.

A natural gas customer using an average of 65 therms per month would see a 5.9 percent increase, to $64.81. That includes a $1 increase in the monthly basic charge, to $9.

The higher rates would bring in an additional $7 million a year in electric revenues and $8.5 million in gas revenues, Avista said. Greater spending on capital projects is the major driver in raising rates, with most of the money going to expand and replace equipment, facilities and older energy delivery systems, the utility said.

In February Avista had proposed raising residential rates 6.1 percent for electric service and 8.5 percent for gas. At that level, customers would have paid an additional $4.89 for electricity and $5.23 for gas each month.

The state attorney general’s office and the UTC staff last month both called for Avista to lower its base electric rates in Washington. The parties cited changing business conditions, including Avista’s ability to borrow money at more favorable interest rates for capital projects to upgrade aging dams and replace other equipment.

The parties also supported smaller profits for shareholders. They recommended profits in the 8.75 percent to 9 percent range, while Avista seeks profit levels of 10.1 percent for its investors.

The smaller rate hikes in the proposed settlement agreement are fair and reasonable for customers, the company and Avista’s shareholders, said Dennis Vermillion, president of Avista Utilities.

“The agreement is the result of concessions and compromises by all parties on a number of issues to arrive at an outcome that is supported by all parties,” Vermillion said in a statement. “It supports Avista’s efforts to continue to make key capital investments in our utility infrastructure as well as recover the operating costs of serving our customers.”

Avista reach the proposed rate settlement with the UTC staff, the public counsel section of the attorney general’s office, Northwest Industrial Gas Users, Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities and The Energy Project. Their recommendation to approve the settlement agreement is not binding on the commission.

Avista serves more than 241,000 electric and nearly 152,000 gas customers in Washington.


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