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Puget Files for $200 Million Rate Hike;Gas, Infrastructure Costs Cited

Driven by continuing high wholesale natural gas costs and demand for infrastructure upgrades for both gas and electric utility distribution systems, Bellevue, WA-based Puget Sound Energy (PSE) last Wednesday filed with state of Washington regulators for a combined gas and electric rate increase collectively totaling $200 million in added revenues. This is PSE's second general rate case filing in less than two years, and the regulatory review process may take up to 11 months.

The utility is proposing a "pay me now, rather than later" approach to step up its investment in renewables and energy efficiency programs now to help mitigate rate hikes in the future, according to PSE senior officials.

The proposed increase request to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission would raise average electric rates 9.2% ($148.8 million in added annual revenues) and natural gas rates 5.3% ($51.3 million). Average monthly increases for retail electric and gas utility bills would be $7.91 and $5.42, respectively.

"The bottom line is we are working to give our customers and our utility more energy independence, and over the long term to shield our customers, as much as we can, from financial stings an unstable energy market can inflict," said Kimberly Harris, PSE senior vice president for regulatory policy and energy efficiency. "The way to do that, we believe, is to plan ahead -- to invest now and secure the energy resources and infrastructure needed to serve our region long into the future."

In total, PSE, the utility subsidiary of Puget Energy, said it plans to invest about $2 billion over the next three years in new energy supplies and infrastructure, with equally large investments expected in later years. "The utility also is investing more in risk-management initiatives to better protect its customers from the turbulence of wholesale energy markets," said a PSE utility spokesperson.

In addition to investments in new renewable and traditional sources of generation and transportation infrastructure, PSE in its rate filing outlined plans to increase its basic monthly customer charge to residential customers $1/month for electric customers and $2/month for gas customers, along with stepping up energy efficiency and demand-side management programs.

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