Puget Sound Energy wants to increase natural-gas bills by 14%, about $8 a month for a typical customer and the latest in a slew of rate increases from local utilities.
The utility is adjusting its rates to reflect wholesale natural-gas prices over the past year, which were higher than previously projected. An unusually cold and stormy winter led to a spike in demand for natural gas, while a pipeline explosion in British Columbia last year led to decreased supply, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) said.
“It definitely was a factor that was not foreseen,” said Jarrett Tomalin, PSE’s customer communications manager.
The changes would put the monthly gas bill for a typical residential customer at about $68, up from about $60.
Seattle City Light, which provides electric service, plans on raising its rates an average of 4.5% each year through 2024. And Seattle Public Utilities, responsible for water, sewer and garbage, is in the midst of a six-year plan that calls for average annual rate increases of 5.2%.
PSE’s proposed changes have to be approved by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC), which will meet Thursday to consider the rate hikes.
Each year, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) submits rate adjustments based on gas-price projections for the next year and how prices differed over the last year from its prior projections. Those changes go into effect Nov. 1.
That’s resulted in rate decreases the past four Novembers, according to PSE, and rates remain below what they were in 2013 and 2014. PSE provides gas service to about 750,000 customers in Western Washington.
Though 66% of single-family homes use gas heat and only 19% use electric heat, new residential construction is trending in the other direction. Builders installed electric heat in 65% of homes built last year and installed gas in only 33%, according to county records.
A proposal to ban natural-gas hookups in new construction, an effort to reduce Seattle’s carbon footprint, recently stalled in the City Council after pushback from business and labor groups and after PSE asked for a yearlong study.
PSE has donated $30,000 to the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s political-action committee, which is spending unprecedented amounts on this year’s City Council races.
Caleb Heeringa, a Sierra club spokesman, said that a rate hike caused, in part, by a pipeline explosion should lead to a reevaluation of gas as an energy source.
“It’s inevitable that this won’t be the last major rate-hike request as our gas infrastructure continues to age,” Heeringa said. “We should be talking about how to transition away from fracked gas infrastructure, and UTC rubber stamping huge rate increases sends the wrong message.”
Two-thirds of PSE’s natural gas comes from Canadian deposits and travels here via pipeline.
In October 2018, a pipeline owned by Enbridge ruptured just north of Prince George, British Columbia. At the time, PSE warned of possible power outages and asked its customers to lower their thermostats and limit their hot-water use. PSE uses natural gas to generate electricity.