A troubling trend is developing on Utah's Capitol Hill. Utilities are attempting to short-circuit the regulatory process by legislating their wishes at public expense.
Questar Gas Co., the latest player of this political game, is pushing HB180. The bill would let it seek a rate increase of up to one-fifth of 1 percent from the Public Service Commission to cover costs of extending service to rural portions of the state.If the measure passes and approval for the increase is granted by the PSC, customers throughout the state would pay a bit more. The amount would not be much, $2 per year or less, but it would set a troubling precedent of having ratepayers subsidizing utility projects.
While Questar is a regulated utility, it also is privately owned. If the gas company deems it profitable to provide service to Panguitch or other outlying communities, it should make the investment to do so and not expect the general populous to front the money through immediate rate hikes.
In the past, when the company - formerly Mountain Fuel - extended its infrastructure into rural areas, it made those rural residents pay monthly fees to cover the additional costs. That practice continues. In some areas, those fees are prohibitive if citizens are required to pay the entire cost of expansion.
For example, about 600 Panguitch residents have agreed to pay an extra $30 per month for Questar service over 15 years to pay part of a proposed $3.2 million project cost. That is their prerogative. But the balance should come from the company's reserves and not other ratepayers in the form of an increase.
If the project is profitable over time, as it certainly pencils out before getting the green light, Ques-tar and its shareholders will reap rich rewards. Those same shareholders should put their money on the line up front and not depend on ratepayers to do it for them.
HB180 also would be a step away from competition, unfairly penalizing propane providers in rural areas that deserve to compete with Questar Gas Co. on a level playing field. It should be defeated by the Legislature.