Puget Sound Energy rate boost OK'd
Seattle Times consumer affairs reporter
Puget Sound Energy customers will be paying more to stay warm this winter.
The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) yesterday approved a rate increase that will boost the typical residential customer's monthly bill by $7.81 to $70.21, or 12.5 percent. The new rate will take effect Wednesday.
The action marks the second time this year the utility has requested and received regulatory approval to pass through higher costs it pays for natural gas.
Last April, Puget Sound Energy obtained an 18 percent increase. Taken together, the increases add up to a 33.5 percent jump over last fall's rates. Puget Sound Energy serves nearly 646,000 natural-gas customers in King, Kittitas, Lewis, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston counties.
To minimize the impact of higher natural-gas prices, the WUTC suggests consumers insulate their home, lower the thermostat, tune up their heating system, insulate pipes. In addition, consumers can check with Puget Sound Energy to find out about a budget payment plan to avoid huge bills in the coldest months, or to see whether they qualify for low-income, bill-payment assistance plans. The toll-free number is 888-225-5773.
WUTC spokeswoman Marilyn Meehan noted that the newly approved rates reflect the volatility of natural-gas prices, which went down last year. The rates in effect this winter are now set to be about the same as they were during the 2001-02 winter, she said.
Added Meehan: "I know it's little consolation to consumers or businesses who are having a difficult time paying their bills, but the price of natural gas in the Northwest is expected to be much lower than other parts of the country.
"I recently saw where a Colorado company (Xcel Energy) is warning customers of the potential for a 73 percent hike from a year ago."
Simon ffitch, an assistant state attorney general who represents consumers before the WUTC, said of Puget Sound Energy, "They don't have any control over these costs, and they pass through the costs directly without any profit.
"In general," ffitch added, "we are working with Puget and other gas utilities to try to smooth out these kinds of price increases by evaluating the different purchasing strategies that companies are using ... to try to mitigate these impacts."
Peter Lewis: 206-464-2217 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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