Over the next few months, a series of hearings will determine whether electric and natural gas customers in Wyoming will pay more for the service they get.
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The Wyoming Public Service Commission, the utilities regulator for the state, received a series of requests in the closing weeks of 2011 to consider rate increases.
Generally utilities seek two kinds of changes to bills. They are either rate increases to pay for the infrastructure needed to serve customers or commodity pass-throughs, which allows them to pass on to customers changes in the cost of the commodity of electricity or natural gas, which can come in the form of increases or decreases and are passed directly through to the consumer.
The bulk of the requests filed with the commission through November and December are rate increases.
“Some of what we’re seeing is due to inflation,” Bryce Freeman, administrator for the Office of Consumer Advocate at the Wyoming Public Service Commission, said. “But what’s driving these rate increases is investment.”
Rocky Mountain Power is asking state regulators for permission to increase their electric service rates by $62.8 million, or 10.4 percent. The company, which serves 135,000 customers across a broad swath of the state, brought a rate increase request last year and in each of several years before that. Last year’s rate hike was much smaller than originally requested due to the efforts of a number of strong interveners including AARP Wyoming. Rocky Mountain Power officials had said they plan to raise rates every year as part of a 10-year plan to increase the company’s infrastructure in Wyoming.
Freeman said the company, responding to customer complaints in the Casper area, is accelerating its equipment replacement program. “Customers were saying they were paying more and more in their rates because of the increases, but the reliability had gone downhill.”
Powder River Energy Corp., which is a rural electric association that’s regulated by the commission, is requesting to increase its cost of power adjustment by $20.2 million per year to reflect an increase in wholesale power costs; it serves residents and businesses in northeast Wyoming, including oilfield and gas field companies.
Cheyenne Light, Fuel and Power, with more than 35,000 customers in the Cheyenne area, has brought two rate increase requests. The electric and natural gas utility for the Cheyenne area seeks a general electric rate increase of $5.9 million or 5.9 percent overall, and a general natural gas increase of $2.6 million or 6.7 percent.
Questar Gas Company is requesting an increase to distribution rates and charges for natural gas services of about $1 million, in part to pay for upgrades to a system it acquired in southwest Wyoming.
None of these changes is automatic.
All requests must be reviewed and acted on by the Public Service Commission. The process is public and includes a number of hearings. It also gives customers a chance to take part in the process and speak on the requests if they wish to. Because of the timing of the submission of these cases, hearing dates had not been set by the end of 2011, but information on hearings will be available from the Wyoming Public Service Commission online or by phone in Cheyenne at 307-777-7427.