The Covid-19 pandemic played a central role in how state of Washington regulators finalized a $205 million general rate request from Bellevue, WA-based Puget Sound Energy (PSE), and they indicated that will be their practice for as long as the virus is present. New natural gas and electric rates are effective July 20.

In the end, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) whittled down the total gas and electric rate hike to $66 million, and nearly $64 million of that total will not be reflected on utility customer bills for at least two years. UTC denied PSE’s request for an attrition adjustment of $11.7 million and $23.9 million for gas and electricity, respectively.

Another way the UTC minimized the near-term impact of the rate changes was by ordering the combination utility to accelerate the return of $51.7 million in previous tax savings from the 2017 federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act. PSE will pass through the savings now in three years rather than four.

At the direction of the regulators, PSE also will beef up existing programs for low-income customers and other vulnerable customers who have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

“In the pandemic it is not fair either to significantly increase customer rates or to deny the company recovery of costs it must incur to continue providing safe, reliable service,” the three-member UTC said in releasing its decision on Tuesday.

Other utility cases that come up during Covid-19 may not be handled the same way, but the virus will definitely be taken into consideration in the regulators’ final decisions, UTC spokesperson Emilie Brown told NGI.

“As other companies file rate cases in the near future, the commission will need to consider the economic impacts of Covid-19 on both ratepayers and utilities seeking rate increases,” Brown said. “If Covid-19 concerns are still present, they will be factored into our decision as they were here.”