Higher winter electric rates sought by PSE

"South Whidbey power bills could soar beginning with winter-like weather in November.Citing a big drop in wholesale electric prices and diminished hydroelectric production, Puget Sound Energy asked the state this week to increase residential electric rates 18 percent by Nov. 1.The Bellevue-based utility went to the state Utilities and Transportation Commission Tuesday to petition for the emergency rate hike. Grant Ringel, a spokesman for PSE, said Wednesday that the increase is based on company projections that show the wholesale price of electricity staying low through the winter. Ringel said the low price is hurting PSE in its own wholesale power sales. Earlier this spring, the company was able to sell its excess power to California for as high as $300 per megawatt hour. The current price for wholesale power - which was capped by the federal government earlier this summer - is between $30 and $60 a megawatt hour.Karl Kirn, a public relations manager with PSE, said his company is also taking a hit because of low demand from California. They don't need the power, he said. We're not selling much.The situation is an ironic turnaround for the utility since last spring. In January, the company began promoting energy conservation in hopes of reducing the amount of power the company had to buy on the wholesale market. In a February presentation, Kirn told the South Whidbey Rotary Club that high wholesale prices could cost customers if they did not begin to conserve energy and use power at off-peak times.Kirn also said PSE did not need to increase electric rates because the company buys most of its power through long-term contracts, not on the open market.But this week, the company officials are saying that low wholesale prices are hurting PSE's bottom line. The company cannot make a large profit from selling its excess power, a profit Grant said PSE has been using to offset the cost of power purchases.The company shouldn't have much power to sell, anyway. Kirn said low reservoirs at the company's five hydroelectric plants have cut into PSE's generating capacity.If approved, the emergency increase will cost the average residential electric customer using 1,031 kilowatt hours of electricity each month $11.07 more on monthly bills, Grant said. PSE's commercial customers would also pay higher electric bills if the emergency measure is approved. PSE would increase their rate by 17 percent.The UTC approved several other emergency rate hikes for other utilities around the state this year, including Seattle City Light and Snohomish PUD. Grant said he does not know how good PSE's chances are at getting its increase.Grant also said the company plans to file a general rate case with the UTC for permanent changes in the company's electric and natural gas rates. He said the company has not yet determined if it will increase those rates. "

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