Multiple workers for PSE trim and remove trees to clear pathways for the utility lines. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Energy.

Multiple workers for PSE trim and remove trees to clear pathways for the utility lines. Photo courtesy of Puget Sound Energy.

Who should foot the bill for pandemic-era power?

Utilities could eventually raise rates to recoup lost costs, activists say that’s a bad plan.

Who will ultimately pay for pandemic-related costs to power utilities is being mulled over now by state regulators, companies and activists in Washington.

The Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission on Dec. 10 allowed utility companies to set aside certain funds and costs in a separate account and label them as COVID-related expenses, said Emilie Brown, spokesperson for the Commission.

This process is known as deferred accounting. In the future, utility companies, like Puget Sound Energy and the four other companies the state regulates, could come back to the Commission and ask to make that money back by raising rates for customers.

Brown said rates are not increasing now, and that any increases would have to be approved by the Commission.

But power companies could decide to make up the difference in other ways, like dipping into shareholder funds, executive payments and bonuses.

That’s what Katrina Peterson, climate justice program manager for Puget Sound Sage, is hoping will happen. Her organization, along with several other community and activist groups, spoke at the Dec. 10 Utilities and Transportation Commission meeting, urging them to not grant utility companies deferred accounting.

“Every single member of the public or consumer advocate was calling for the commissioners to either narrow or deny,” Peterson said.

The Washington State Office of the Attorney General agreed, and in a document sent to the Commission, called the power companies’ request too broad and generous during a global pandemic.

“The Commission should limit any authorized deferred accounting to only increased bad debts and the costs of customer bill and arrearage assistance,” the Attorney General’s document states.

The Commission should further encourage utility companies to look at any deferrals through the lens of shared sacrifice, according to the AG’s document. It also called on utility companies to show how they are sharing the financial burdens of the pandemic with their customers.

At the Dec. 10 Commission meeting, Commissioner Ann Rendahl said they could not force power companies to “order the utilities to use corporate or shareholder funds for charitable purposes to provide assistance for customers.”

“However, I do encourage all of our utilities to support their customers through this unprecedented and dark time,” Rendahl said.

In October, Gov. Jay Inslee extended moratoriums on housing evictions and public utility shutoffs through Dec. 31. It also forbid energy, water and land-line telephone companies from charging late fees and re-connection fees.

Puget Sound Energy did not provide specific financial information on how the pandemic was impacting their company. However, a spokesperson did issue an email statement: “These unusual circumstances have brought on increased expenses that otherwise would not occur. These range from enhanced cleaning at PSE offices and workspaces to increased (personal protective equipment) for our employees.”

The PSE statement also said the company has distributed more than $8.5 million in bill payment assistance to customers since April.


Talk to us

Please share your story tips by emailing editor@rentonreporter.com.

To share your opinion for publication, submit a letter through our website https://www.rentonreporter.com/submit-letter/. Include your name, address and daytime phone number. (We’ll only publish your name and hometown.) Please keep letters to 300 words or less.

More in News

File Photo
Data released on fireworks-related injuries in Washington

Last year fireworks caused $122,000 in damage.

File photo.
Mysterious in-home deaths of father, two daughters ruled as starvation

Written materials about fasting were found in the home; the father’s death called a suicide.

Dr. Faisal Khan. Courtesy of King County.
Dr. Faisal Khan appointed as next King County health director

Dennis Worsham will continue to serve as interim director until September 6.

Tsr
Renton spa employee accused of trying to coerce woman into prostitution, posing nude

Quyen T. Nguyen, 39, has been accused of attempted promotion of prostitution… Continue reading

Teaser
King County experts discuss extreme heat mitigation plan

The plan includes improving infrastructure and communications to prevent future disasters.

T
Public art call for South King County transit corridor

Deadline is July 13 for artists to apply to have their work in new RapidRide expansion.

Construction at Lindbergh High School is expected to last from summer 2022 to spring 2024. Image courtesy of Renton School District.
Lindbergh High School construction begins in July, will continue until 2024

The preparation phase for construction at the high school started in March 2021.

Courtesy of the Renton School District.
Renton welcomes three new principals to the school district

The principals will lead Benson Hill Elementary School, Talley High School and Hazen High School.

Most Read