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Washington Avista customers could see rate increase due to cold winter temperatures

Rebecca White/SPR

Some energy customers in Washington could see an increase in their electricity bills this summer. Avista Utilities has asked energy regulators to approve a rate increase to cover costs caused by unusually cold temperatures last winter.

If the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission approves Avista’s request, the average eastern Washington customer could pay about $5.60 more per month for electricity, or a 6% increase.

Patrick Ehrbar, the director of regulatory affairs for Avista, said an unusually cold airmass in November and December led to customers using more electricity than the utility anticipated. That same cold snap also made providing electricity more expensive.

“It was really, really cold, in fact it was so cold that the run of the river, the water that flows through our hydroassets froze,” he said. “We didn't have those flows going through our turbines. So, we had to go to the market to buy more power from the wholesale market.”

Ehrbar said the widespread cold also meant Avista was competing with many other utilities for energy.

“The same demand on resources goes up for everybody, and that puts pressure on the wholesale markets,” he said. “We might be able to buy power from other utilities, and if they don't have it, there's trading hubs where we can buy energy from. … Demand was high for energy and that drove prices up.”

Utility providers estimate each year how much it will cost to provide energy. If the actual costs are above or below that estimate, they can ask regulators to approve a rate adjustment. That’s known as an energy recovery mechanism.

Washington Utility and Transportation Commissioners are scheduled to hear the proposed rate increase June 29. Members of the public can share their thoughts on the UTC's website.

If state regulators approve this year’s adjustment, it will go into effect July 1.

This story has been updated from its original version to include how to provide public comment.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.