September 8, 2008

Comments Requested on Avista Rate Hikes in Idaho

By Anonymous

Idaho customers of Spokane, Wash.-based utility company Avista Utilities will have until Sept. 5 to submit comments on a proposed rate increase settlement that would raise electricity rates an average 11.98 percent and natural gas rates 4.7 percent. Two public workshops will also be held on Aug. 27 at the Brammer Building in Lewiston and Aug. 28 at the Edgewater Resort in Sandpoint. Avista, which serves almost 75,000 customers in northern Idaho, had originally requested a 16.7 percent increase in electricity rates and a 5.8 percent increase in gas rates, hoping to generate more than $32 million to offset rising costs of gas purchases and operations.

The proposed settlement, which has yet to be approved by the commission, would reduce that figure by about $9 million to $23.26 million. Avista, Potlatch Corp., IPUC staff and the Community Action Partnership of Idaho (a group representing low- and fixed-income customers) fronted the settlement.

If adopted, residential customers would see an additional $7.89 on their monthly electricity bills, and their gas bills would go up by about $4. Avista's average residential gas customer already pays about $75 per month, and small commercial customers pay about $1,700.

In July Avista officials said the price it pays for gas - purchased from suppliers in Canada and the Rocky Mountain area - rose about 73 percent, from $7.39 per dekatherm (10 therms, or about 290 kilowatt hours) to $12.81. The utility also says it has undertaken significant infrastructural improvements, including upgrades to the Noxon Rapids and Cabinet Gorge hydroelectric projects and the Colstrip thermal project, $130 million in transmission upgrades and upgrades to the Jackson Prairie Natural Gas Storage Facility.

According to a commission release, other adjustments to Avista's original request include:

* Increasing a fund that benefits low- and fixed-income customers from $350,000 to $460,000;

* Providing $25,000 for low-income outreach and conservation education;

* Deferring (with a 5 percent carrying charge) Idaho's $21 million share of expenses related to the federal relicensing of hydroelectric projects on the Spokane River;

* Deferring (with a 5 percent carrying charge) Idaho's share of expenses related to a confidential litigation;

* Including Idaho's share of about $1.37 million, plus interest, in expenses related to the settlement of a lawsuit by the State of Montana against utilities over the use of Montana riverbeds;

* Spreading Idaho's $850,571 share of revenues related to Avista's sale of greenhouse gas credits over two years, and including the revenue in the current rate case so it can immediately benefit customers.

A technical hearing for the attorneys representing parties and witnesses in the case will be held Aug. 28 at the commission hearing room in Boise. The hearing is open to the public but will not include public testimony.

Credit: IBR Staff Report

(Copyright 2008 Dolan Media Newswires)

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