Puget Sound Energy’s natural gas rate hike deal OK’d

Puget Sound Energy and the state’s consumer representative have agreed on a proposed rate increase this fall of just more than $4 a month for the utility’s natural gas customers.

The compromise was reached between Puget Sound Energy, the Attorney General’s Public Counsel Section and other interested groups. But the state’s Utilities and Transportation Commission still must approve the agreement.

Assuming it does, the new rates would take effect Nov. 1.

Puget Sound Energy originally had asked for gas rates to move up by 6 percent, or about $5 a month, for the typical gas customer.

The bulk of the rate increase would have come from raising the basic monthly fee for all customers from $8.25 to $18 per month. Under the new agreement, that charge would rise to $10 a month instead, resulting in an overall increase of $4.15 a month for the typical residential gas bill.

“This is a reasonable compromise that will soften the impact to family budgets,” said Simon ffitch, chief of the Public Counsel Section, which represents consumers in utility rate cases.

Puget Sound Energy spokeswoman Dorothy Bracken said the compromise still provides the higher revenue the utility needs to support its infrastructure.

“It is good to come to a compromise that all the parties could agree to,” she said Friday afternoon. In addition to Puget Sound Energy and ffitch’s office, the Utilities and Transportation Commission staff, large industrial and commercial customers, federal agencies and advocates for low-income residents reviewed the compromise.

The proposed rate agreement also would raise Puget Sound Energy’s electric rates by 8.4 percent. While Puget Sound Energy serves most of Snohomish County’s natural gas customers, it does not provide electricity here.

Additionally, the compromise provides more money to assist low-income customers, better tracking of customer service and a smaller profit margin for Puget Sound Energy’s shareholders.

The utility also has agreed not to seek another general increase in gas or electric rates before April 2009.

Puget Sound Energy originally filed its rate case with the Utilities and Transportation Commission last December and then amended it to ask for more money. At one point, the utility wanted $58 million more from gas customers and nearly $180 million in year in new electricity revenue.

The new agreement calls for Puget Sound Energy’s annual revenue increase to be no more than $49 million from gas customers and $130 million from electric customers.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.

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