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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Rocky Mountain Power has petitioned the Wyoming Public Service Commission for an average 17.3 percent increase in electrical rates.

The increase would average 50 cents per day, or $15 per month, for a typical household that uses 825 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month.

The change would be effective Sept. 22.

In a media release issued Tuesday, Rocky Mountain Power said the increase is necessary to serve Wyoming customers' growing electricity needs and to comply with environmental requirements.

“We've been providing electricity for nearly a century, and our prices in Wyoming continue to be among the lowest in the nation and in the world,” said Richard Walje, Rocky Mountain Power president. “Despite our best efforts to control expenses, however, the energy landscape is changing and the cost of providing electricity is increasing.

“We are investing billions of dollars in our system to provide customers with continued safe and reliable electric service,” he said in the release.

“Costs to serve customers that are largely beyond the company's control are rising significantly every year. Accordingly, customer prices must also increase to include these additional costs.”

The two primary drivers for the price increase include rising costs for purchased power and coal used as fuel at power plants, and new electric generation, transmission lines, environmental controls and other capital investments necessary to serve the utility's customers, he said. Walje noted that customers in Wyoming pay only for what they use from the company's system resources such as transmission lines, power plants and wind projects that also benefit its customers in other states.

“We recognize that price increases can be difficult for many customers, especially in the current economy,” Walje said. “We don't make these requests lightly, and ask only for what is necessary to serve our Wyoming customers. As an essential public service provider, we have a fundamental role in supporting Wyoming's continued economic vitality.”

The Utah-based Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp, is Wyoming's largest utility with more than 134,000 customers in the Green River Basin, parts of the Big Horn Basin, the Casper area, Rawlins and Laramie.

The Wyoming Public Service Commission earlier this year approved a rate increase for the utility to generate $35.5 million per year. The change was for an overall increase of 5.1 percent this past July and 1.9 percent in February 2011.

For residential customers, the increases were 5.2 percent in July and 1.9 percent in February.

The final amount approved was about half of Rocky Mountain Power's original request of $71 million.

In March the utility reached an agreement with some electricity users who intervened in the case to cut the hike to $35.5 million.

Chris Petrie, senior assistant attorney general with the Wyoming Public Service Commission, said Tuesday the next step is to assign staff to the rate case. Then the commission will issue a public notice.

“This is likely to be a contested proceeding to the last day of the hearing,” Petrie said.

It also is likely that there will be interested parties intervening, he said, as well as a public hearing.

He noted that Rocky Mountain Power serves a six-state region and Wyoming's share of the cost of the system is about 15 to 17 percent.

Jeff Hymas, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power in Salt Lake City, said the utility is aware this isn't a good time to request a rate increase given the state of the economy.

“We're only asking what is necessary for us to serve our customers,” he said.

Part of the increase is for emission control equipment installed at the utility's power plants, including three in Wyoming.

The cost for scrubbers at the Naughton power plant near Kemmerer is $153 million, Hymas said.

The utility not only has new customers, but existing ones are using more electricity than in the past, he said.

Residential customers, for example, use 26 percent more electricity than they did 20 years ago because of more electronic devices in the home, Hymas said.

The 17.3 percent average rate increases includes different levels of user classes.

The increase for residential customers is 21.5 percent; for small commercial companies, 19.5 percent, and for large commercial companies, 9.4 percent.

Contact Joan Barron at joan.barron@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

Contact Joan Barron at joan.barron@trib.com or 307-632-1244.

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