Attorney General’s Office asserts that Avista customers were overcharged for over two years
OLYMPIA — Following a victory for ratepayers at the Court of Appeals, Attorney General Bob Ferguson today urged the state Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) to require Avista Corp. to refund customers up to $41 million for rates that violated state law.
In written testimony filed today, the Attorney General’s Public Counsel Unit — which represents the customers of state-regulated utility companies — told the UTC that Avista should be required to refund customers for overcharges from Jan. 11, 2016 to April 30, 2018. During that time period, Washington residents and businesses were charged $41 million more than they should have been under state law. Avista’s residential customers were overcharged an estimated $15 million during that time period, averaging roughly $40 in overcharges per customer.
“My office has continued to fight for ratepayers and challenge Avista’s unlawfully high rates,” Ferguson said. “It’s time for Avista to make it right through refunds of the millions of dollars they overcharged Washingtonians.”
Avista, a Spokane-based utility, serves approximately 253,800 electric customers and 167,000 natural gas customers in Eastern Washington. All customers who paid Avista’s improperly high rates during the time they were in effect — about 420,800 customers — could be entitled to refunds.
The UTC will issue a final decision on the refunds sometime after a hearing on the case on October 30.
The UTC regulates investor-owned utility rates in Washington. In 2015, over the Attorney General’s Office’s objections, the UTC approved rates for Avista’s electric and natural gas services that factored in the cost of Avista’s projected growth. This included estimated property expansion, which added approximately $20 million total to Avista’s rates over the two-year period the rates were in effect. This addition violated state law, which requires that utility property must be “used and useful” to be included in customer rates.
Additionally, the rate the UTC approved was calculated incorrectly and did not reflect updated, lower power costs, adding about $21 million to Avista’s rates during the two-year period the rates were in effect.
The Attorney General’s Office appealed the UTC’s decision setting Avista’s rates. The state Court of Appeals agreed that the UTC’s decision violated state law and ordered the UTC to recalculate the rates. As part of that process, the Attorney General’s Office is seeking a total of $41 million in refunds, which includes both the future property increases and the power cost miscalculation.
Members of the public may submit comments to the UTC in any matter. Written comments may be sent to the UTC, P.O. Box 47250, Olympia, WA, 98504, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name and mailing address, the name of the company (Avista), and docket no. UE 150204 / UG 150205 (electric and gas).
For more information, customers may contact either the UTC or Public Counsel:
- UTC – (888) 333-9882, email at email@example.com. Information is available online at www.utc.wa.gov. Enter docket no. UE 150204 (electric) or UG 150205 (natural gas).
- Attorney General’s Office Public Counsel Unit, 800 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2000, Seattle, WA 98104-3188, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Public Counsel Unit advocates for the interests of consumers on major rate cases, mergers, rulemakings, and other proceedings before the UTC. More information about Public Counsel’s work is available online at https://www.atg.wa.gov/about-public-counsel.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Visit www.atg.wa.gov to learn more.
Brionna Aho, Communications Director, (360) 753-2727; Brionna.email@example.com