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State fines Avista for misapplying low-income assistance to customers’ accounts

Dec. 16, 2010
Docket Number: U-101169

OLYMPIA, Wash. – State regulators today fined Spokane-based Avista more than $60,000 for improperly handling customer accounts, including many low-income customers, disconnected from service for nonpayment.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) assessed the penalty for 621 violations of state consumer protection rules, 573 of which were related to the disconnected accounts. State Refusal of Service rules are designed to protect consumers when they are unable to pay their energy bills; need to be reconnected; and need to set up payment arrangements on the prior balance without a further threat of disconnection.

The UTC penalized the company for improperly applying energy-assistance pledge funds made to low-income customers’ accounts. Energy assistance pledges are intended to help consumers keep the lights and heat on during the winter months. Commission staff found that Avista improperly applied those funds to a prior balance, which led to additional threats of disconnection for customers.

UTC staff initiated the investigation after a routine review of consumer complaints against energy companies in Washington. Avista now has 15 calendar days to respond to the investigation by paying the penalty, requesting a hearing to contest the violations or asking the UTC to reduce the amount of the fine.

Avista serves more than 232,000 electric and 146,000 natural gas customers, primarily in Eastern Washington.

The UTC is the three-member state agency in charge of regulating the private, investor-owned electric and natural gas utilities in Washington. It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit.

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Staff contact: Marilyn Meehan
Posted/updated: 02/16/2011

 

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