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Avista Rate Case Moves Washingtonians Away from Coal

The utility Avista serves about 350,000 people in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. (Gov. Jay Inslee/Flickr)
The utility Avista serves about 350,000 people in eastern Washington and northern Idaho. (Gov. Jay Inslee/Flickr)
December 9, 2019

SPOKANE, Wash. – Some electric customers in eastern Washington are moving closer to a future without coal.

The Spokane-based utility Avista is waiting for approval from the state Utilities and Transportation Commission on a rate case settlement that includes an exit from the Colstrip power plant in Montana.

Avista's proposed rate increase includes $3 million to help transition the Colstrip community, and a commitment to stop supporting capital investments that extend the life of the coal plant past 2025.

"This is good for ratepayers, it's good for the climate, it's fair to the workers who are affected and it's helping to reduce the risk of future liability to ratepayers, who could be on the hook for assets they can't use, or for clean-up related to those assets," says Brian Henning, co-chair of 350 Spokane, a nonpartisan climate advocacy group.

Avista, which serves about 350,000 customers in eastern Washington and northern Idaho, also is committing $33 million to reclamation costs at Colstrip and increased investment in helping low-income customers.

Average residential users would see about a 6.6% rise in their electricity rate. If approved, the new rate would take effect April 1.

While Henning commends Avista, he adds the caveat that this settlement is like a black box – since the exact breakdown of the rate increase hasn't been made public.

"It's true that they're accelerating their debt repayment, but it's also true that some of it is just their regular, ongoing annual request to recover costs that they've incurred in the past," he points out.

Matt Nykiel, a conservation associate with the Idaho Conservation League, says Colstrip is the largest greenhouse gas emitter west of the Mississippi River.

Avista, which owns 15% of plant Units 3 and 4, is the first owner to say it will stop making payments to prolong the life of the plant.

Nykiel says that's a big deal.

"That's a really powerful commitment that Avista made, and sends a pretty strong signal to the rest of the utility owners," he states.

Washington state utilities have to end their reliance on coal by the end of 2025, under a new state law.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA