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New bill demands transparency for Puget Sound Energy customers

Jan 25, 2024, 9:06 AM | Updated: 10:42 am

pse energy gas bill...

An example of a PSE bill. (Photo courtesy of PSE)

(Photo courtesy of PSE)

The costs of the state’s climate laws might be spelled out on Puget Sound Energy (PSE) utility bills if a new measure passes the legislature.

Customers may not see any indication of an increased cost from the state’s Climate Commitment Act (CCA), but it’s there. Average customers are paying around $3-4 more per month on average, according to PSE Director of Communications Christina Donegan. The initial increase took effect last October.

More on PSE price increases: Gas bill rates to increase for Puget Sound customers

While the charge won’t be on the bill, customers might see a “credit” linked to the CCA — making it look like customers are actually saving money from the state’s climate laws.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) ruled last year that including both the charge and the credit on customer bills would be “too confusing.”

“Only those charges or credits that inure to the benefit of customers should be included as line items on customer bills,” the commission read, adding that it would serve as an incentive for consumers to reduce their own carbon emissions.

Some Republican lawmakers disagreed and are now pushing to change UTC’s decision with new legislation.

On Wednesday, Washington’s Senate Environment, Energy & Technology Committee heard SB 5826, which would require charges to be listed on customer utility bills as a line item — if those increased costs come from the state’s CCA.

PSE is one of the companies required under the CCA to purchase carbon “credits” at state auctions to cover the costs of their pollution. The company has acknowledged it is passing that cost onto customers and now PSE spokesperson Matt Miller told committee members that the company supports the bill and wants customers to see both sides of the equation at Wednesday’s hearing.

“We believe in price transparency,” he said. “We think that both the costs and the benefits of the CCA should be put on our bills for our customers to see.”

Sen. Drew MacEwen (R-Shelton), the bill’s primary sponsor, said customers are intelligent enough to understand the full picture.

“If it’s fair to have credits [from the CCA] on there, then we should have an understanding of where additional charges are coming from,” MacEwan said.

Still, some critics of the bill remain skeptical. Lauren McCloy, the policy director with the Northwest Energy Coalition, said she is fully supportive of transparency, but believes SB 5826 has its flaws.

“It singles out a single state environmental regulation [the CCA] for treatment that doesn’t apply to other programs’ specific costs such as pipeline replacement, tree trimming or storm restoration,” McCloy said.

She told committee members that if PSE were to put all those costs on the bill as line items, it would become overly complicated.

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Democratic Sen. Yasmin Trudeau of Tacoma also expressed reservations. She said the state Attorney General’s office, which represented PSE customers during the UTC decision “is saying that it is incredibly complicated given that we don’t have full picture information on the impacts of the CCA.” Other Democrats, including Sen. Joe Nguyen (D-White Center), implied it might be premature to include the line items when the total customer costs and benefits of the CCA might end up evening out over time.

PSE Communications Director Christina Donegan confirmed the current rate increase is not finalized and could change due to the market-based nature of the CCA’s cap-and-invest program.

That could mean another increase — or it could mean getting more money back. The UTC commission ruled all costs PSE passes down to customers “should be subject to further review and possible refund in a future proceeding.” However, it’s not clear when that might be, or whether customers will be able to see it on their bills if SB 5826 fails.

You can read more of Kate Stone’s stories here. Follow Kate on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here

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New bill demands transparency for Puget Sound Energy customers