AG Ferguson challenges proposed utility rate hikes by Puget Sound Energy, Avista

KIEV, UKRAINE - 2019/01/16: In this photo illustration, the Puget Sound Energy company logo seen displayed on a smartphone. (Photo Illustration by Igor Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Washington-based energy companies Puget Sound Energy (PSE) and Avista have proposed rate increases, which the Attorney General's Office (AGO) argues are unfair on customers.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed expert testimony disputing the need for rate hikes with the Washington Utilities & Transportation Commission, a state board that regulates rates and practices of privately-owned utility companies. According to the AGO, these utility companies can only impose rate hikes that are "fair, just and reasonable."

The AGO's Public Counsel Unit can dispute rate changes by filing testimony with the Utilities & Transportation Commission, which must approve any rate hikes.

"Washington families are struggling right now," said Ferguson. "They do not need utility bills any higher than is absolutely necessary."

Attorney General Bob Ferguson speaks at an event on Aug. 1, 2022.

According to the AGO, PSE aims to raise electric and gas rates over the next three years, averaging an increase of $16 per month for electricity and $12 for gas on your utility bill. In total, this would raise electric rates by $405 million and gas rates by $215 million. The office says Avista is looking to raise the average electric bill by $7 and gas bill by $1 per month, totaling an increase of $70 million for electricity and $13 million for natural gas over two years.

Ferguson argued in expert testimony that neither company has justified the extent of the rate increases.

Legal experts with the Public Counsel Unit claim that both companies included higher profit margins in their proposals—PSE increasing its profit to 10% and Avista increasing to 9.4%, respectively—which they argue is too high. According to their findings, PSE's proposals are roughly $188 million too high for electricity and $112 million too high for natural gas, and Avista's proposals are $47 million to high for electricity and $7 million too high for natural gas.

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The Utilities & Transportation Commission will host virtual public comment hearings. Public comment for Avista will be held at 6 p.m. on Sep. 7., and public comment for PSE will be held at 6 p.m. on Sep. 28.