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Friday, September 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Avista should get smaller rate increase, staff for Washington regulators say

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 31, 2017, 5:16 p.m.

 (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
(Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Avista Utilities should be allowed to raise customers’ rates over the next three years, but by much smaller amounts than company officials proposed, Washington regulators’s staff members said Friday.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission’s staff recommended denying Avista’s requested electric and natural gas increase, and giving the company more modest rate hikes.

Avista’s three-year rate plan called for electric base rate increases of 12.5 percent the first year, 2.5 percent the second year and 2.5 percent the third year.

The Spokane-base utility also asked for increases in natural gas rates of 9.3 percent the first year, 4.4 percent the second year and 4.4 percent the third year.

Commission staff recommended electric rate increases of 2 percent the first year, and 2.3 percent in years two and three.

For natural gas, commission staff recommended a 1.3 percent rate increase the first year, and a 3 percent increase in years two and three.

Avista officials said the utility needs higher rates to pay for ongoing capital spending, including major dam renovations and a new online payment system. The utility expects to spend about $405 million annually on capital projects through 2021.

However, commission staff said Avista hadn’t made a compelling case for the requested rate increases. Staff members called the company’s proposed plant investments and costs of borrowing money “excessive.”

The staff recommendation doesn’t detail how the proposed rates would affect residential customers’ bills.

The three-member Utilities and Transportation Commission, which is not bound by the staff recommendation, will make a final decision on the utility’s request this winter. New rates would go into effect in January.

Since Avista submitted the request to raise base rates, 114 customers have sent comments to the commission. One customer was undecided; the rest were opposed.

Avista customers will be able to provide public comment at two upcoming meetings. They are scheduled for 6 p.m., Nov. 8, at the Northeast Community Center, 4001 N. Cook St., Spokane; and 6 p.m., Nov. 28, at Pioneer Center, 240 SE Dexter St., Pullman.

Customers also can submit comments online at www.utc.wa.gov/comments; email comment@utc.wa.gov; or call toll-free 1-888-333-9882.

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