Avista Customers May See Rates Rise

By Tom Bacon

Avista customers in northern Idaho may be somewhat confused by apparent contradictions in the utility's rate structure. While the cost of natural gas has plummeted, the cost of getting it to customers has risen.

The upshot is that Avista wants more money from natural gas customers - about 7-point-8 percent, and more money from electric customers - just over 4.5%. That'll mean hikes for 123 thousand electric customers in northern Idaho and about 75 thousand natural gas users.

To explain the rate hike requests, Idaho Public Utilities Commission employees will conduct two public workshops this month - one in Sandpoint on February 12th and one in Moscow the next evening.

While the cost of natural gas fell by about 12% last year, Avista told Idaho regulators it needs higher rates for both fuels because of fixed costs, such as maintaining pipelines, and the need for new investment in infrastructure - things such as power poles.  The public meetings are meant only to give customers information from the PUC about the rate case.  Later in March, the three commissioners who decide rate cases will travel to Coeur d' Alene and Lewiston to take formal testimony.

If the full rate hikes are granted, an average residential electric bill would rise by about $4 a month to about $83. A natural gas user would pay just over four dollars a month more.
 
The Sandpoint meeting on February 12th is at the Community Hall on First Avenue.  The Moscow meeting on February 13th is in the Great room of the 1912 Center on East Third Street, both at 7:00 p.m.
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