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WA AG advised utilities commission to conceal carbon tax impact on energy rates

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(The Center Square) – Earlier this month, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission approved a request by Puget Sound Energy to increase their natural gas rates to cover the costs of the state’s cap-and-trade program under the Climate Commitment Act.

However, the approval also carried with it a stipulation that the utility provider could not show on customers’ bills the reason for the rate increase, a decision that was recommended by the Washington Attorney General’s Office.

In its request, PSE told the UTC it needed a 3.25% increase in overall bills for all natural gas customers to generate $16.8 million required to cover their losses, which would be done under a State Carbon Reduction Charge.

The request states that a typical resident using 64 therms per month would see an increase of $3.71 per month or 3.89%, with lower rate increases for lower-income customers. A therm is a unit of heat used for measuring a gas supply.

However, AGO Assistant Attorney General Nina Suetake wrote in a July 3 letter to the UTC that they were “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 its final decision, the UTC sided with Suetake. While acknowledging “that the tariff revisions are necessary to allow the Company to begin to recover the costs of implementing the CCA,” the three-member board also wrote 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 decision stipulated that “only those charges or credits that inure to the benefit of customers should be included as line items on customer bills.”

In a Friday blog post, Washington Policy Center Environmental Director Todd Myers wrote that “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.”

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