While heavy snows forced cancellation of workshops for another utility’s rate case, the three members of the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) huddled in Boise Tuesday and approved a 4.7% rate decrease for Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities’ 72,000 retail natural gas customers in northern and north-central Idaho.

Declining wholesale gas prices prompted the state regulators to cut retail gas rates further, even though the utility’s annual purchased gas adjustment (PGA) had been put in effect three months earlier (Oct. 1, 2008). “Because wholesale prices are lower than anticipated, customers are paying more than market rates,” a PUC spokesperson said.

Separately, the regulatory commission canceled workshops in eastern Idaho that were scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday on PacifiCorp’s Rocky Mountain Power request to increase retail power rates an average of 4%. The PUC instead planned to gather comments on the proposed rate hike through telephone and electronic communications channels.

Regarding the Avista gas decrease, the PUC said typically the utility’s PGA deferral account would only be adjusted once annually (on Oct. 1). “At that time, customers get either a surcharge when market prices are higher than anticipated or a credit when market prices are lower,” the spokesperson said. “This year, because of the continued decline in prices, Avista applied to the commission to refund about $4 million of a $5.6 million PGA deferred account to customers now rather than waiting until Oct. 1” (see Daily GPI, Jan. 5).

The PUC said it took the action “to allow customers to receive the greatest benefit from a decrease in rates during the winter heating season.” The commission found it was “in the public interest to immediately implement Avista’s rate decrease without further procedural delay.”

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