PacifiCorp seeks rate hike

An increase approved last year hasn't been enough, the utility's parent company says.

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WALLA WALLA -- Plans are heating up for another increase in electrical rates.

PacifiCorp, the Portland-based company that serves about 127,000 Washington customers with electricity through Pacific Power, is seeking a 4.3 percent rate increase starting in May.

Under the proposal, the average residential customer using 1,300 kilowatt hours per month would see a $4.65 increase in their bill for a total of $107.73. That increase would bring $12.9 million in additional annual revenue for the company.

The request was initially filed last July with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, the state agency that regulates private, investor-owned electric companies in Washington.

Staff for that agency this morning recommended cutting the initial request by more than two-thirds.

Utilities and Transportation Commission staff said they would support a 1.1 percent overall rate hike. That proposal would mean a $1.33 increase for the average residential user of 1,300 kilowatt hours per month. At that rate the average total residential bill would be $104.41. Pacific Power would receive a revenue increase of $3.3 million annually.

That proposal also includes a seven-cent increase in the basic monthly service charge ¬?-- from $6 to $6.07 for Pacific Power customers. That rate would be paid by all customers regardless of the amount of electricity used, UTC staff members announced this morning.

Customers would also see an eight-cent-a-month increase next year in their contribution to the company's low-income bill assistance program. That cost would rise from 55 cents to 63 cents a month. It would allow another 1,800 people to be helped over the next five years, officials said.

The three-member Utilities and Transportation Commission -- which is not bound by staff recommendation -- will have the final say in the matter.

Public testimony is being accepted at the UTC's Olympia office. Public meetings in Walla Walla and Yakima are scheduled this month. On Jan. 24, Walla Walla are customers will have a chance to weigh in during a Jan. 24 meeting in Council chambers at City Hall, 15 N. Third Ave. That meeting begins at 6 p.m.

Pacific Power's Washington customers, including in Walla Walla, Columbia and Garfield counties, saw rates increase last April. The utility company had asked for a nearly 21 percent increase during the last round of rate discussions. Instead the UTC approved a 12 percent increase.

In July, PacifiCorp officials testified the previous rate increase was not enough to enable the company to meet the return on equity previously approved by the commission.

The inability to earn the authorized revenue has been driven by increases in operating costs and decreases in revenue, officials testified.

Increases in power expenses and coal costs from the company's Jim Bridger plant, removal of a hydroelectric facility and decreases in revenues from wholesale sales are among the factors contributing to the need for a rate increase, Pacific Power officials said. They said the company has taken measures to reduce costs, including the introduction of automated meter reading.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission has received 14 public comments on the matter so far. Of those, two are undecided on the increase and 12 are opposed to it. Those who would like to submit letters can do so at P.O. Box 47250 Olympia, WA, 98504, or email at comment@utc.wa.gov . Telephone testimony is also accepted at 1-888-333-9882. The deadline for comments is March 30.

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