Bellevue, WA-based Puget Sound Energy (PSE) Thursday asked the state of Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) for an 11.1% retail natural gas utility rate increase to cover higher wholesale costs for gas. PSE requested the hike be effective Oct. 1 under the state’s purchased gas adjustment process.

In a separate request to the UTC, the Puget Energy utility also asked regulators to increase the monthly charge PSE customers pay for a low-income fund providing utility bill assistance to qualifying households. The monthly surcharge amounts to about 22 cents for electric utility customers and 2 cents for gas customers.

For residential customers the proposed gas cost adjustment would raise bills an average of 10.3%, or an added $8.49 monthly. With the increase, if the UTC concurs, the average natural gas residential bill would be $90.64/month, or about the level it was in October 2006, PSE said.

Last winter season lower wholesale gas costs for Puget allowed the utility to reduce retail gas charges by 13% overall.

“Natural gas prices have been very volatile and increased significantly since the UTC approved our request for a 13% reduction a year ago,” said PSE COO Bert Valdman. “With natural gas prices stabilizing recently, we have been able to minimize our current request and are reaching out to customers to help them manage their energy use and obtain bill payment assistance.”

The UTC-approved purchased gas adjustment mechanism allows the state’s gas utilities to periodically adjust rates to reflect changes in prices charged by gas producers and wholesale marketers. This process of cost recovery does not involve the utility’s profits as does a separate pending general rate case, for which PSE announced Aug. 22 a $179.4 million settlement (see Daily GPI, Aug. 26).

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