Utility regulatory change could add flexibility

Windmill in plains
Proponents of HB 2839 say the measure would expand options for regulating utility companies while keeping consumer protections in place. Photo: Pixbay

Utility stakeholders and lawmakers are throwing their support behind a proposal which would allow additional regulatory options for electrical and natural gas companies. Proponents say the measure will better direct the Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) and utility companies to satisfy both business and consumer needs.

The House approved HB 2839 in a 64-34 vote on Feb. 9. The bill’s prime sponsor is State Rep. Jeff Morris (D-40), and its cosponsors include State Reps. Vandana Slatter (D-48), Beth Doglio (D-22) and Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34).

Under the bill, UTC and electrical and gas companies must consider a Greenhouse Gas “planning adder” when creating or assessing conservation programs and policies. The adder is a calculation of the economic effects of gradually increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in a calendar year.

HB 2839 also allows UTC to consider alternative forms of regulation when energy utilities are looking to recover costs incurred on behalf of customers.

Some stakeholders last month indicated a need for greater business involvement in regulatory discussions during a public hearing on SB 6424, HB 2839’s Senate companion. That measure has not advanced since it was placed in the Rules Committee on Feb. 8.

During a Feb. 21 hearing, Brandon Houskeeper, Director of Public Affairs at Puget Sound Energy, told the Senate Energy, Environment and Technology Committee that the measure would allow utilities to update infrastructure to meet customer needs.

“Our customers have changing, evolving expectations of what it means to be their energy partner of choice,” he said. “This bill will provide us the ability to meet those expectations…by providing certainty with the planning adder to ensure that today’s investments do not become tomorrow’s stranded assets, and therefore adding costs to our customers unnecessarily.”

Houskeeper added that allowing for alternative forms of regulations will add better protections for consumers and help move away from having to incentivize utilities to sell more energy.

Amy Wheeless, Policy Advisor for Northwest Energy Coalition, spoke to the benefit of allowing a workable framework for regulation.

“The UTC needs a specific authority in order to ensure a regulatory environment that is effective, efficient and relevant to the rapidly evolving electric sector while keeping consumer protections that exist in place.”

Vlad Gutman-Britten, Washington Director for Climate Solutions, testified that the bill would also work to transition those businesses to offer cleaner electricity.

During executive session debate the next day, State Sen. Doug Ericksen (R-42) raised concern with the bill’s influence on rate payers.

“It does allow investor-owned utilities and other utilities to manage their risk better but…it places all of the risk and all of the burden upon the individual rate payers in Washington state, and this could lead to rather large increases on working families, small corporations and other companies that are energy intensive.”

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle (D-36), however, said the bill sets the stage for the “next generation of regulatory environments associated with utilities.” He is prime sponsor of HB 2839’s companion bill.

This is achieved by “not only investing in the next generation of energy in terms of infrastructure…but to also have utilities be partners with that and find creative ways to not only be in the business of selling kilowatt hours but to be really engaged in efficiency.”

After commentary, lawmakers approved the measure and sent it to the Rules Committee.

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