In separate filings Tuesday, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) asked Washington state regulators for a $91 million natural gas utility rate increase, effective Oct. 1, and to extend low-income assistance and some electric power credits from the federal Bonneville Power Administration (BPA). The moves, if approved by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC), would affect 1 million electric and 760,000 natural gas PSE customers.

As part of the periodic purchased gas adjustment (PGA) filings to the WUTC, the Bellevue, WA-based Puget Energy utility is seeking an increase in its natural gas rates that would push the average monthly residential bill to a little more than $90, according to the utility. “Wholesale natural gas prices rose significantly nationwide over the past year, in part due to the increase use of gas to fire power-generating plants to meet summer cooling needs, and also because of the severe damage hurricanes caused to the vast production and pipeline facilities in the Gulf of Mexico,” a PSE utility spokesperson said.

PSE said it faced the overall gas cost increases despite a combination of strategies it applies to help minimize the full effect of wholesale price surges, including financial hedges, buying summer supplies for storage while prices are relatively low and other measures.

In addition to the gas rate application, PSE said it was seeking the Washington regulators’ approval to increase its utility bill assistance for low-income customers by more than $1.2 million, reaching a total of $9.7 million for the program. Eligible electric/natural gas utility customers can receive up to $750/year in assistance.

PSE also asked the regulatory commission to extend — at a reduced level — the BPA residential and small-farm customer electric bill credits. BPA and the utility previously reached agreement on this extension, pending the WUTC approval. The BPA customer credit to private-sector utilities in the Northwest represents each customer’s share of savings that inexpensive power from the region’s extensive federal hydropower dams provide to all citizens, with public power customers getting first preference.

Under the BPA-PSE agreement, the federal marketer/transporter would continue to credit the payments to the private-sector utility’s customers until Oct. 1, 2011.

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