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Commission approves test of PSE price plan

"Until September it's only a test. But if Puget Sound Energy passes it, South Whidbey residents could find themselves paying more money for the electricity they use at breakfast and dinner times.The two-member state Utilities and Transportation Commission voted last Wednesday to allow PSE to apply time-of-day electricity pricing to the bills of 300,000 of its residential customers over the next four months. The decision comes two weeks after the utility asked the WUTC to allow it to make the price plan mandatory and permanent for 420,000 of its customers. Under the plan the company's electric customers will pay 6.25 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) during the peak electricity use times of 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. A rate of 5.36 cents will be charged from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., while a low rate of 4.7 cents is charged for electricity used between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. and all day on Sundays and holidays.Though PSE executives wanted to use the price plan to encourage customers to conserve electricity, the WUTC commissioners told the utility that it wants to test the plan to determine if it does encourage conservation and save customers money if they conserve. The commissioners will re-evaluate the program after Sept. 30.Dorothy Bracken, a spokesperson for PSE, said Monday that the company sees the test period as a first step toward bringing the pricing system to all its customers. Bracken's statement was a backpedaling of sorts for the company, which had insisted as late as mid-April that the WUTC had to approve their plan for the company to avert the need to buy large amounts of power on the inflated wholesale spot market.Bracken also noted that 120,000 business and industrial customers were exempted from the rate plan at the WUTC's urging. Like residential customers, business and industrial customers have been receiving bills that showed how much electricity they used during four periods of the day. Lobbyists for these customers argued before the WUTC that time-of-pricing would unfairly burden the business community, which they said cannot easily shift its power use to off-peak times. Bracken said PSE believes they can, but it will take time to convince them.We need to do more work with business about how they might benefit from it, she said.All customers in the test program have the right to opt out of it and continue to pay the current flat rate of 5.4 cents per kWh for their electricity. If time-of-day pricing does meet with the WUTC's approval this fall, it could come to South Whidbey customers by next year. To price electricity by the hour, PSE uses computerized meters that transmit electricity use information to PSE billing computers. The meters have been installed at the homes and businesses of 420,000 PSE customers on the mainland, but have not yet been installed on Whidbey Island. "

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