State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Public Counsel Unit is challenging rate increases proposed by Puget Sound Energy (PSE) starting in January 2023.
“Washington families are struggling right now,” Ferguson said in an Aug. 1 news release. “They do not need utility bills any higher than is absolutely necessary.”
The Public Counsel Unit filed testimony against the hike with the state Utilities & Transportation Commission (UTC). Regulated utilities such as PSE are allowed to impose rate increases on customers that are “fair, just and reasonable.” Those requests are filed with the UTC.
PSE is requesting significant rate increases. Starting in January, over three years, PSE looks to raise electric rates by $405 million, and gas rates by $215 million. That’s an increase of about $16 per month for electric customers and $12 per month for gas to the average bill, according to the news release. The Attorney General’s Public Counsel Unit believes those increases are not fair, just and reasonable.
Utilities attempt to justify rate increases primarily by demonstrating increased costs, but those costs can be disputed. Ultimately, the UTC must approve all rate increases.
PSE filed in January for rate hike increases in 2023 but on June 27 revised its electric utility claim to include the impact of its Green Direct Program. Green Direct is a voluntary, renewable energy option through which cities and other large organizations commit to purchasing solar- and wind-generated energy for a 10-, 15- or 18-year term under a specified rate structure. These purchase commitments provide the financial certainty needed to ensure that two proposed renewable energy plant projects can move forward with construction.
Among other issues, the Attorney General Office’s experts determined that PSE included higher profit margins in its proposal than were justified, according to the news release. PSE is asking to increase its profit to nearly 10%. The Attorney General Office’s experts determined those profits are too high.
The experts also determined that the utilities have overestimated many of their costs to provide power to their customers.
Instead, the unit asserts that PSE’s request is approximately $188 million too high over three years for electric rates and $112 million too high for natural gas rates.
The UTC will host a virtual public comment hearing about the proposed hikes. If you would like to let the UTC know your thoughts about PSE’s increases, you may participate in the public comment hearing or submit comments to the commission.
The PSE public comment hearing will be at 6 p.m. on Sept. 28. The public may participate through Zoom or phone. The Zoom link and phone participation information can be found on the UTC website at utc.wa.gov/220066.
Comments may also be sent to the commission by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, by mail at P.O. Box 47250, Olympia, WA 98504, or by phone at 888-333-9882 (toll-free).
The Attorney General Office’s experts also opposed rate hikes proposed by Avista, which serves customers in Eastern Washington.