State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s Public Counsel Unit is challenging proposed rate increases by Puget Sound Energy (PSE) beginning in January 2023.
“Families in Washington are struggling right now,” Ferguson said in an August 1 press release. “They don’t need higher utility bills than absolutely necessary.”
The public council unit filed testimony against the hike with the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC). Regulated utilities such as PSE are allowed to impose “fair, just and reasonable” rate increases on customers. These requests are filed with the UTC.
PSE is asking for significant price increases. Starting in January, over three years, PSE is seeking to raise electricity rates by $405 million and gas rates by $215 million. This represents an increase of about $16 per month for electric customers and $12 per month for gas over the average bill, according to the press release. The Public Counsel Unit of the Attorney General believes that these increases are not fair, just and reasonable.
Utilities attempt to justify rate increases primarily by demonstrating increased costs, but these costs can be disputed. Ultimately, UTC must approve all rate increases.
PSE in January filed rate increases in 2023, but on June 27 it revised its electric utility application to include the impact of its Green Direct program. Green Direct is a voluntary renewable energy option whereby cities and other large organizations commit to purchasing solar and wind power for 10, 15 or 18 years at a specified rate structure. These purchase commitments provide the financial certainty necessary to ensure that the construction of two proposed renewable energy power plant projects can proceed.
Among other issues, experts from the attorney general’s office determined that PSE included higher profit margins in its proposal than was warranted, according to the press release. PSE asks to increase its profit to almost 10%. Experts from the Attorney General’s office determined that these profits were too high.
Experts have also determined that utilities have overestimated many of their costs to provide electricity to their customers.
Instead, the unit says PSE’s request is about $188 million too high over three years for electricity rates and $112 million too high for natural gas rates.
UTC will host a virtual hearing for public comment on the proposed hikes. If you would like to share your thoughts on the PSE increases with UTC, you can participate in the public comment hearing or submit comments to the panel.
The PES public comment hearing will take place at 6 p.m. on September 28. The public can participate via Zoom or by phone. Zoom link and telephone participation information is available on the UTC website at utc.wa.gov/220066.
Comments can also be sent to the commission by email at [email protected], by mail at PO Box 47250, Olympia, WA 98504, or by phone at 888-333-9882 (toll-free).
Experts from the attorney general’s office also objected to rate hikes proposed by Avista, which serves customers in eastern Washington.