The Center Square reported that the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) approved a request by Puget Sound Energy earlier this month to raise its natural gas rates to cover the costs of Washington’s cap-and-trade program, part of the Climate Commitment Act, which was passed by the Democrat-controlled state legislature and signed into law by Democrat Governor Jay Inslee.
However, the UTC mandated that Puget Sound Energy (PSE), which serves approximately 800,000 customers in six counties, was not permitted to inform customers in their bills as to why there was a rate increase. According to the outlet, the decision was a recommendation from the office of Washington State Attorney General, Democrat Bob Ferguson.
PSE informed the UTC that it required a 3.25 percent increase for all natural gas customers in order to generate the $16.8 million to cover its losses, meaning that a typical household using 64 therms per month would see an increase of $3.71 per month or 3.89 percent. The increase would be done using a State Carbon Reduction Charge.
According to Todd Myers, environmental director for the Washington Policy Center, Inslee’s Department of Ecology previously stated that adding a tax on CO2 emissions would reduce natural gas prices. He cited Kathy Taylor, the department’s Air Quality Program Manager, who wrote a letter to Senator Shelly Short claiming that at an allowance price of $41 per metric ton of CO2, the price of “natural gas would decrease by about 1 percent.”
In a July 3 letter, Assistant Attorney General Nina Suetake told the UTC that her office (Public Counsel) was “also concerned with PSE’s proposal to itemize the State Carbon Reduction Charge and State Carbon Reduction Credit on customer bills. If all program-specific charges were included as line items, customer bills would quickly become incomprehensible. We believe the issue of whether to itemize these charges and credits on bills requires more discussion in upcoming workshops to ensure that the itemization would add to customer understanding and experience, rather than unnecessarily complicate utility bills.”
In an August 3 ruling, a three-member board of the UTC, appointed by Inslee, agreed with Suetake and admitted “…that the tariff revisions are necessary to allow the Company to begin to recover the costs of implementing the CCA,” adding that PSE “should not include the proposed ‘carbon reduction charge’ as a line item on customer bills. Public Counsel [Suetake] correctly observes that including all program charges on customer bills would quickly result in lengthy and confusing bills. Additionally, only those charges or credits that inure to the benefit of customers should be included as line items on customer bills.”
The panel also stipulated that "only those charges or credits that inure to the benefit of customers should be included as line items on customer bills."
Myers told King 5, “The Utilities Commission approved the rate hike, but made it illegal for Puget Sound Energy to list that on people’s bills. So people will see their rates go up, but they won’t know why, and in fact, the Utilities Commission has prohibited Puget Sound Energy from telling its customers.”
He also wrote regarding the revelation, “…this is not only dishonest but violates the spirit of Washington’s laws and constitution. The position of the Public Counsel in the Attorney General’s office is that they know what the public should know and what they shouldn’t. The claim that transparency is bad for the public is remarkable and revealing.”
Last month, thanks to the cap-and-trade program, Washington state had the highest gas prices in the US, surpassing even California.
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