Washington state regulators on Friday approved a settlement, paving the way for natural gas and electricity retail utility rate increases for Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities, effective Dec. 1.

Based on the approval from the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC), monthly bills will increase an average of $5.60 for electricity and another $2.20 for natural gas. The settlement allows Avista to hike its gas and electric rates an additional $34.1 million annually. The utility originally asked to hike rates a combined $63.8 million.

The WUTC said the settlement it approved allows Avista to increase retail electric rates by $29.5 million annually, or an overall 7.4%, compared to the $55.3 million, or 13.4%, the company requested. Gas rates go up by $4.6 million, or 2.9%, compared to the $8.5 million originally requested.

Avista CEO Scott Morris said he was "pleased the Commission recognized the need for our retail rates to reflect the increased costs necessary to operate and maintain our energy delivery system."

As part of the settled increases, Avista will increase 7.4% by for electric rates and 2.9% for gas rates the amount available for low-income ratepayer assistance. In addition, it will add $500,000 to the amount of its support for low-income westernization programs.

The WUTC said it has received 170 consumer comments on the rate increase request with all but three submittals opposing the utility's request. Avista serves more than 234,000 electric and 147,000 natural gas customers in the state of Washington.

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