The Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) on Thursday approved natural gas and electric retail rate increases for Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities, but the amounts were below what the utility requested (see Daily GPI, April 16). The increases were effective Friday.

Avista's gas utility customers will see $1.6 million added to the utility's gas energy efficiency rider, an average increase of 2.6% for residential customers, or about $1.52/month. Electric customers face an annual rate hike of $16.5 million for the utility's power cost adjustment (PCA), which almost amounts to an average 2.6% increase for residential customers, or $1.88/month.

Avista originally sought an electric rate increase of $32.1 million, or 14%, and a $2.6 million, or 3.6%, increase for retail natural gas customers. Avista asked for a decision by April 23, but the PUC exercised its prerogative to impose the six-month suspension.

"Customer response to more than 30 Avista conservation programs to reduce natural gas consumption has been greater than anticipated," a PUC spokesperson said. "Customers in Idaho and Washington state saved two million therms as a result of the programs -- well above the targeted 1.6 million therms."

The PUC reiterated that it assessed the utility gas efficiency rider to ensure that it is both "cost-effective" and needed to keep retail customer rates from going even higher. "After a review of the programs, PUC staff determined, and the commission agreed, that the total of all customers' bills will be lower with the programs and the rider than without them," the spokesperson said.

For the electric rate increase, the PUC cited "below-normal hydroelectric generation" and costs associated with Avista's Lancaster generating station as resulting in more added power supply expense than is already accounted for in Avista's PCA surcharge.

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