The Idaho Public Utilities Commission (PUC) last Thursday directed private-sector energy utilities in the state to participate in a series of workshops examining ways to make energy more affordable for consumers. The regulators encouraged individual utility customers and consumer groups to participate.

Initial workshops are set for Oct. 14 and Oct. 22 at PUC headquarters in Boise, ID. “Following those workshops, the commission may schedule follow-up sessions throughout the state,” according to a PUC spokesperson.

PUC staff will offer initial written comments to the regulators based on the workshops by Nov. 14, and the public and stakeholders will have until Dec. 8 to respond to the staff comments. The staff will make a final report and recommendation to the PUC by Dec. 30.

The utilities included in the order were Idaho Power Co., PacifiCorp’s Rocky Mountain Power, Avista Utilities and Intermountain Gas Co. The PUC spokesperson said the hoped-for outcome would be the identification of new programs for consumers, policies and/or legislation, along with procedures and/or resources that could be implemented to make energy more affordable.

While its order recognizes that a variety of factors contribute to the continuing upward pressure on electricity and natural gas utility rates in the state, the PUC’s order said that “energy affordability has become a central issue for many Idaho households and businesses.” As a result, the state regulators realize that the utilities will be dealing with a growing number of customers unable to pay their monthly utility bills.

“Customers who are unemployed, have lower incomes and/or have fixed incomes that fail to keep pace with inflation are disproportionately affected by rising energy costs, since they must devote an increasingly larger share of their income to paying for natural gas and electricity,” the PUC order said.

Some of the possible mitigating actions that will be discussed at the workshops are (a) bill payment plans, (b) payment assistance to qualifying utility customers, (c) bill reduction efforts through additional conservation/weatherization programs, (d) reduced payment transaction costs for customers, (e) making it easier for customers to obtain service and (f) one-on-one customer assistance through case management.

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