Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities has asked the Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) for approval of a 2.6% energy efficiency surcharge, or rider, on retail natural gas customer bills, and the PUC has issued a call for input on the proposal. Comments will be accepted through the end of June.

The utility, which serves 72,300 retail gas customers in northern Idaho, said the response of those consumers to more than 30 conservation programs designed to reduce their energy consumption prompted a February PUC filing to increase the customer rider supporting these programs. This is separate from another Idaho gas rate increase request by Avista seeking a 3.6% boost in its base rates (see Daily GPI, March 16).

In cases of utility requests to increase riders, the PUC investigates the programs covered by the surcharge for their cost-effectiveness, and will approve the increased charges “only if it has evidence demonstrating that lack of such programs would result in even higher rates for customers,” a PUC spokesperson said. For example, Avista programs reduced customer demand by more than 2 million therms last year, so that means there were 2 million therms the utility did not have to buy or store to serve its Idaho customers during the year, he said.

In its filing, Avista emphasized that energy efficiency remains its “lowest-cost resource” and all customers — even those who may not directly participate in the programs — benefit from them. Avista said its most recent cost-benefit analysis for the program showed a savings to customers worth $8.9 million.

Customer participation in the efficiency programs continues to exceed current funding, Avista told the PUC.

The programs consist mostly of financial incentives or rebates for cost-effective efficiency measures installed by customers with a simple payback of greater than one year, the PUC said. Included are more than 300 potential measures spread over more than 30 programs, such as those for appliances, compressed air and heating-ventilation-cooling systems.

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