Avista wants increase in gas, eletrical rates

It’s cold outside, but the news that Avista will be raising its gas and electrical rates over the next 11 months probably doesn’t do much to warm the hearts of customers. According to Avista Corp. spokeswoman Debbie Simock, the utility company wants to raise power and natural gas rates in Washington next win¬ter, including a large increase in the basic charge for each service. Avista serves more than 241,000 electric and nearly 152,000 gas customers in Washington. According to Simock, the major drive in the rate request is more spending on capital projects. “Our capitol budget is up $335 million from our capitol investments,” explained Simock “On top of the ongoing investments we’ve made to upgrade our infrastructure, this is something that we would be doing systematically, if it even gets approved.” The Spo¬kane-based utility filed the request with the Washington Utilities and Trans¬portation Commission last Tuesday. If approved by state regula¬tors, the new rates would cost a typical residential customer an additional $4.89 a month for electricity and $5.23 a month more for gas starting Jan. 1, 2015. That’s an increase of 6.1 percent for electric service and 8.5 percent for gas. The changes would bring monthly bills up to $84.98 for a residential customer using an average 965 kilowatt hours per month, and up to $66.42 for a natural gas customer using an average of 65 therms per month, Avista said. With the recent cold snap that brought sub-zero temperatures to the region, and a billing cycle that lasted 28 to 34 days during the winter holidays, some people are already seeing an increase in their monthly bill. “I think Avista needs to look elsewhere for the money, and trim the bloated salaries of the executives,” says Stevesn County resident and business owner Angela Heberlein. “Also, wasn't part of the agreement for the biomass station being built here is that it would help those customers in this area in the form of lower power bills? Why are we not seeing any offset from it? Where is that money and energy going?” Avista has over 21,000 miles of transmission and distribution power lines, over 240,000 wood poles and 7,650 miles of natural gas distribution lines over a service area of 30,000 square miles in eastern Washington, northern Idaho and parts of southern and eastern Oregon. According to Amanda Maxwell, Media Relations and Communications Manager of the Utilities and Transportation Commission, 14 comments have been filed with the commission so far by citizens against the rate request. “There will be public meetings in the next several months that the public can attend and give their opinion on in regards to this request,” said Maxwell, although she didn’t know when and where they would be scheduled. “There are a lot of factors to consider in the next 11 months.” Avista expects to spend that $335 million on capital projects this year, including work on the Lit¬tle Falls Powerhouse, the Nine Mile Powerhouse and the Post Falls South Channel Dam, all of which are more than 100 years old.Money to be used for infrastructure Most of the money from the higher rates would be used to expand and replace equipment, facilities and older energy deliv¬ery systems, stated Simock. The proposal includes a major change in the basic charge all customers pay. Instead of $8 a month for each type of service, customers would pay $15 a month for electricity and $12 a month for gas, in addition to their en¬ergy use. However, Avista proposes slightly lower kilowatt-hour rates for electric, which would put a slight damper on the $7-a-month hike in the basic charge.For gas customers, the use rate would increase slightly, going up by more than the $4 monthly increase in the basic charge. The basic charge covers fixed costs, including meters, trans¬formers, customer service and billing. Simock stated that if Avista were to charge precisely what those costs really are, it would actually be $36 per month. Basic charges went up by $2 a month in Jan. 2013. In late 2012 Avista was approved for rate increases that took effect in 2013, and again in Jan. 2014. At that time, the utility agreed not to change its rates again until 2015. While the electric base rate in¬crease actually would be 3.8 percent, two customer rebates are set to expire at the end of this year, and Avista proposes a new rebate related to the sale of renewable energy credits start¬ing next year. All those changes result in an increase of 6.1 percent. If approved, the new rates would increase Avista’s electric base revenues by $18.2 million a year and natural gas base revenues by $12.1 million a year. “Nobody likes it when bills increase, but we can help our customers who might be having a hard time struggling to pay their bill,” said Simock. “Avista offers energy assistance programs, and they are there to be utilized. Winter is a challenging time, and we recognize that.” People will be able to com¬ment on the proposal at meet¬ings hosted by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, she added. “They (Commission) will be visiting our Spokane site and going through our records,” said Simock. “They will be looking at us very thoroughly to decide whether or not this rate request is approved.” For more information, go to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission’s website at http://www.utc.wa.gov.