AVISTA'S PROPOSED RATE HIKE TOO MUCH
The Public Utilities Commission last week held a meeting in La Grande about the rate increase that Avista Utilities is seeking. If approved, the rate increase to Avista's Oregon natural gas customers will go up 14.7 percent to residential users, 9.1 percent to commercial accounts and 5.9 percent to industrial users. Only one local resident showed up for the hearing/open house, even though the PUC had advertised the meeting and local media had provided news coverage. Why only one person for such an important issue?
Apparently, consumers feel it wouldn't matter if they did show up to express concern about such an inflationary increase. Over the past couple of years, utility rates have gone up dramatically. Even though many experts feel there is enough natural gas available in the northern hemisphere to meet demands, the price of either the product or the cost of transporting the product continues to go up. Increased company benefits including health care and pensions, along with escalating fuel prices, are part of the reason for the proposed increase. Avista is a stock-owned company; stockholders should be able to expect a reasonable return on their investments.
Still, the amount of the increase seems unfair. Most people are not seeing their personal incomes increasing 14.7 percent. Two or 3 percent is the norm today. Customers believe, rather rightly, that their comments won't stop the big utility from getting its way, so why show up for a public hearing. Who else can we buy our natural gas from?
When the PUC makes its final decision, it should reduce Avista's request to a more reasonable figure.
Finding common ground
A lot of lip service is given to the importance of compromise and collaboration. People talk about how important finding middle ground is, only to turn around and refuse to budge. But a real example of what can be accomplished by people talking to each other surfaced in discussions about the Oregon Department of Transportation's plans for Island Avenue.
ODOT's original plan for improvements to Island Avenue met with resistance from some property and business owners along the strip. A plan had been developed to deal with an increasing number of cars and the safety concerns posed by trucks exiting the Boise mill property along the strip. Business owners were concerned that a main component of the plan to place a median barrier along the strip would be harmful to their businesses.
ODOT and the concerned property owners held a series of meetings, and the result is that the design is being changed dramatically. No median barriers will be placed along the strip.
The art of compromise was at work in the process. ODOT and the business owners are to be congratulated for sitting down and talking and trying to find a middle ground. It appears they have.