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Avista looks to cover windstorm costs with higher rates in 2017

Avista customers could start paying for last year’s windstorm damages to the utility’s electrical system in their rates this winter.

The gale-force winds that swept through Spokane last November caused nearly $23 million to Avista’s electrical equipment. The utility also paid out $2.9 million in employee overtime and wages to contract crews who worked around the clock to restore power to more than 180,000 Avista customers affected by the storm.

“It was the largest storm with the greatest number of customers without power in our history,” said Casey Fielder, an Avista spokeswoman.

The utility is asking for a $2 million increase in Washington electric revenues to cover storm costs. The amount represents about 5 percent of Avista’s pending request for $38.6 million in additional revenue to pay for big-ticket items, including ongoing renovations at the company’s Spokane River dams.

Avista wants the new rates to take effect Jan. 1. A decision is expected from Washington regulators in the next several weeks.

Avista submitted the request for higher rates to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission in late February. The commission must make a decision within 11 months.

If the new base rates are approved, a typical household’s electric bill would increase by $6.83 per month, to $89.62. About 34 cents of each payment would go toward recovering costs from the windstorm that hit Nov. 17, 2015.

Avista recovers the cost of new equipment over decades, so windstorm costs will be collected through rates over a period of years, Fielder said.

New transmission equipment installed after the storm will be paid off through electric rates over a 55-year period, Fielder said. The company also replaced thousands of wood poles damaged by the storm, and those costs will be recovered over 35 years, she said.

The windstorm did the most damage to Avista’s electrical system in Washington, with a minimal effect on Idaho’s system, Fielder said. As a result, Avista’s pending rate request in Idaho doesn’t include windstorm cost recovery, she said.

But the proposed electric rate hike in Idaho does include $630,000 in costs related to a 2015 snowstorm.

Heavy, wet snow fell around Christmas, causing tree limbs to take down power lines, Fielder said. Most of that damage occurred in Avista’s Idaho service territory.

If Idaho regulators approve the rate hike, a typical household would see its electric bill increase by $2.64 per month for a total of $87.15.



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