OLYMPIA – The Washington State Attorney General’s Public Counsel Section filed expert testimony on Tuesday with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC) opposing key parts of a proposed rate increase by Cascade Natural Gas Company. Public hearings on the proposed rate increase are scheduled for Aug. 29 in Yakima and Sept. 7 in Bellingham.
“Cascade’s request would increase customer rates without a rate case by using accounting methods known as ‘trackers,’” Public Counsel Attorney Judy Krebs said. “These methods don’t consider whether other costs are declining or if other revenues are going up that could be used to offset the need for a rate increase. This practice is known as ‘single-issue ratemaking’ and is disfavored. Put simply, it’s an unfair way to set rates.”
Cascade, headquartered in Seattle, provides natural gas to approximately 172,000 customers in Washington. Major population centers served by Cascade include Bellingham, Bremerton, Yakima and Walla Walla.
On Feb. 14, Cascade requested an increase in its general natural gas rates in order to procure an additional $11.7 million in annual revenue. The proposal would increase rates for residential and commercial customers, while rates for industrial customers would decline. The average residential customer would see a 9.5 percent increase in their winter bills, about $9.64 a month.
The company also proposed to increase its basic monthly charge (flat fee regardless of usage) from $4 to $10 per month, implement a new Account Activation Charge of $32 that would affect customers who move frequently, and raise other fees.
The Public Counsel Section represents residential and business consumers who would not otherwise have an effective voice regarding utility rates, services and business practices.
Public Counsel challenged Cascade’s proposal to create two “trackers,” accounting methods that record increases in specific, isolated utility costs and subsequently increase rates to cover those costs without a rate case. Normally, utilities are required to put all of their expenses and income in front of the Commission before receiving a rate increase through formal rate case.
Cascade's proposed two new trackers relate to cost increases from new infrastructure costs for distributing gas and revenue decreases due to declining gas usage by its customers.
Krebs said Public Counsel also presented an analysis questioning the fairness of Cascade’s proposed method for spreading rates increases among customer classes. In addition, experts objected to Cascade’s request to increase fees for utility disconnection, reconnection, and equipment service charges by as much as 100-200 percent. These fees heavily impact renters and low-income customers.
Following is information about how customers can participate in the rate proposal process:
- The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission will hold public hearings to take comments from the public regarding Cascade’s proposal. The hearings are scheduled for: Tuesday, Aug. 29, at 6:30 p.m., in hearing room B-33 of the Yakima County Courthouse, 128 North Second Street, Yakima, and Thursday, Sept. 7, at 6:30 p.m., in the auditorium of the Bellingham Senior Activity Center, Whatcom County Parks and Recreation Department, 315 Halleck Street, Bellingham.
- Customers may also submit comments in writing to WUTC, P.O. Box 47250, Olympia, WA, 98504; by e-mail at email@example.com, or by fax at (360) 664-4291. Include your name and mailing address, the name of the company (Cascade Natural Gas), and docket no. UG-060256.
For more information, customers may contact either the WUTC or Public Counsel:
- WUTC – (800) 562-6150, e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is available online at www.wutc.wa.gov.
- Attorney General’s Office Public Counsel Section -- Public Counsel, Attorney General’s Office, 900 Fourth Avenue, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA 98164-1012, or e-mail email@example.com
The WUTC is expected to rule on the case by Jan. 16, 2007.
The Public Counsel Section advocates for the interests of consumers on major rate cases, mergers and other rulemakings before the UTC. Public Counsel also advocates for consumers in court appeals, through technical study groups and before the Legislature and other policy makers. The office maintains contact with the public through a citizen advisory committee, community organizations, public hearings and personal contact with consumers in major cases. More information about Public Counsel’s work is available online.
Judy Krebs, Assistant Attorney General, (206) 464 6595
Kristin Alexander, Public Information Officer, (206) 464-6432, firstname.lastname@example.org