Under an Oregon law designed to true up private-sector utility tax payments and retail rates annually, the state's major investor-owned utilities have filed their 2006 tax reports with the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC). Regulators said last Wednesday they will launch a proceeding to review the filings.

If retail customer rates need adjusting, it will be done on June 1, the PUC said, carrying out its responsibilities under a 2005 state law (SB 408) that has been a source of controversy as much as the tax issue it was enacted to resolve.

Last year at least two of the major utilities called for repealing the law, but when the utilities made their initial mandatory tax filings in October, the PUC moved quickly to begin its six-month review process.

According to the four major utility filings, two could be refunding monies to their customers because of rates higher than taxes paid, and the other two may have to pay additional taxes and thus raise retail rates. The four utilities involved are Portland General Electric (PGE), Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities for its operations in Oregon, PacifiCorp and Northwest Natural Gas.

Customers of PGE and Avista could get refunds of $37 million and $1.1 million, respectively, while the customers of PacifiCorp and Northwest face increases of $38 million and $1.69 million, respectively.

"The utility tax law is designed to ensure that the amount collected for taxes in customer rates matches the amount paid by the utilities annually to taxing authorities," said a PUC spokesperson.

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