TIMING IS EVERYTHING IN RATE REDUCTIONS

April 04, 2002 12:00 am

Timing is everything

in rate reductions

Natural gas customers in Union County and some Southern Oregon counties got a small dose of good news Monday when the Oregon Public Utilities Commission approved Avista Utilities 15 percent rate reduction. The bad news is that the reduction comes as the winter heating season is ending and people are hoping they wont have to use their furnaces much for the next few months. Fifteen percent of next-to-nothing doesnt amount to a whole lot.

FAMILIES HAVE a lot of catching up to do considering the impact utility costs took out of budgets over the past year and a half. Interestingly enough, those increases occurred during heating season one in October 2000 and one in January 2001. Paying out 50 percent more for utilities took its toll on households and on the economy. Winning back a 2 percent reduction in electric rates and a 15 percent reduction in natural gas rates wont provide the catch-up that families and the economy need.

Avista said it is passing along the savings from lower wholesale costs to its 80,000 residential customers in Oregon. Roy Hemmingway, chairman of the PUC, said the rate reduction gives Avistas residential customers the lowest natural gas rates in the state. Considering that two of the counties that Avista serves Union and Klamath are among some of the coldest in the state in the winter, that surely comes as a relief.

AVISTA CORPORATION, an investor-owned company and parent of Avista Utilities, a year ago was on the financial ropes, having seen one of its worst years ever. But rate increases in Oregon and a 25 percent surcharge on electric bills in Washington and another 5 percent this month, combined with various cost-cutting moves, have improved the companys position. Avista is expecting to turn what proved to be a $68 million negative cash flow for 2001 into a positive $300 million this year. Avista Utilities, thanks to higher rates to consumers, projects earnings of between 55 cents and 75 cents per share this year compared with 46 cents in 2001. Despite the changes, Standard & Poor is maintaining the companys rating at BB+, which means investment in the company is somewhat speculative.

Times are tough for a lot of companies. But times have been tough on consumers, too. Avistas rate reduction will come as much better news if it holds into the season when consumers can actually take advantage of it.

GREENING UP LA GRANDE

La Grande is celebrating its trees and Arbor Week today with official designation of the citys first Heritage Tree and the communitys ongoing dedication to trees.

LA GRANDE'S TREES make this city stand out above most cities in Eastern Oregon. Our forefathers knew that trees could make a difference in a community. That commitment has continued through today, and were all the better for it.

So even though winter this year has delayed the annual greening of our community, celebrate the communitys trees. The green is on its way.