State balks at Pacific Power rate increase


WALLA WALLA — A rate increase request from Pacific Power is getting a cool reception from two state offices.

In separate decisions announced Friday, the Public Counsel Division of the state Attorney General’s Office and staff for the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission said the rate increase proposed by Portland-based PacifiCorp, parent company of Pacific Power, is too high.

Both agencies recommended reducing the proposed increase.

Public hearings are scheduled for next month on the matter. The first will take place in Yakima on July 15. The following day the second will be conducted at noon in Walla Walla in Council chambers at City Hall, 15 N. Third Ave.

The energy company has filed with the Utilities and Transportation Commission for a 14.1 percent overall rate increase. The proposal would generate an additional $42.8 million in revenues for the utility, according to the filing.

Residential users would experience the greatest percentage increase at 15 percent. That calculates to about $15.84 per month for the average user based on 1,300 kilowatt hours of use. Rates for commercial and industrial users would jump by 13.5 percent. Costs for public street lighting would go up about 4 percent.

Both the Attorney General’s Public Counsel and Utilities and Transportation staff said Friday the request is too high.

The case will be before a three-member Utilities and Transportation commission, which is not bound by the staff recommendation. The decision will be made this fall before new rates take effect by Dec. 11.

The UTC staff has suggested reducing the proposed increase by two-thirds. Under the staff recommendation, the average residential customer using 1,300 kilowatt hours per month would see an increase of $2.42 for a bill of $110.03.

The staff also recommends an increase in the basic monthly service charge from $6 to $8.64, as an alternative to the $10 sought by PacifiCorp. That fee is paid by all customers regardless of how much electricity is used.

Commission staff recommends an increase of 12 cents per month in customer contributions to the utility’s low-income assistance program. That would take the current contribution from 63 cents to 75 cents per month, allowing another 472 people to be served.

Included in the staff recommendation are increases in reconnection fees and penalties for those caught tampering with meters. Customers disconnected for nonpayment and needing to be reconnected during normal business hours would be charged $34 instead of $25. The fee for those caught siphoning power off the grid would be $180, rather than the current $75.

Public Counsel for the state Attorney General’s Office, however, takes exception to those fees.

That organization recommends rejection of modifications to reconnection fees and permanent disconnection fees.

“We are concerned about the proposal to dramatically increase customer reconnection fees imposed when a customer seeks to be reconnected after being disconnected for nonpayment,” said Assistant Attorney General Lisa W. Gafken in a prepared statement. “The increase is double or more than double the current charge, depending on the specific fee. These fees are generally borne by the most vulnerable of PacifiCorp’s customers, and the company’s proposal would unnecessarily burden these customers, making reconnections more difficult.”

Under the Public Counsel adjustments, the rate request would be reduced by about $23 million.

Pacific Power serves about 132,000 customers in five Eastern Washington counties, including Walla Walla, Columbia and Garfield.

The Utilities and Transportation Commission has received 43 public comments on the rate increase proposal. Of those, 41 are against, and two are undecided.

Further written comments can be sent to: UTC, P.O. Box 47250 Olympia, WA 98504 or via email at Name, mailing address and the PacifiCorp name, plus the docket number — UE 130043 — should be included in the correspondence.


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