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News Release
Natural Gas Price Adjustments Okayed by Commission
September 25, 2001 (2001 - 034) (UG 144, UG 145, UG 146)
Contacts: Roy Hemmingway, Chairman, 503 378-6611; Joan H. Smith, Commissioner, 503 378-6611; Lee Beyer, Commissioner, 503 378-6611; Bob Valdez, Public Information Officer, 503 378-8962
Salem, OR –Today the Oregon Public Utility Commission approved requests from the state's three natural gas distribution companies to adjust their prices to reflect changes in wholesale natural gas costs over the past year. The companies are Northwest Natural, Cascade and Avista. The new prices are effective October 1, 2001.
The annual rate adjustment reflects the company's costs of purchasing gas for the next year. The companies make no additional profit on the pass through of these costs to ratepayers.
Residential customers of Northwest Natural Gas will see their rates increase by 18.7 percent. The monthly bill of a typical customer using 54.1 therms will increase by $9.26 from $49.65 to $58.91. Commercial customer rates will go up by 22.5 percent. Industrial customers will see 28.3 percent increase. The overall increase is 20.7 percent. Northwest Natural serves an estimated 484,282 customers in Western Oregon.
Residential customers of Cascade, which serves portions of Southern, and Eastern Oregon, will see their rates rise by 5.7 percent. With these changes, the monthly bill of a typical residential customer using 61 therms would increase from $55.35 to $58.53. Rates for commercial customers will go up by 7.6 percent, and by 8.2 percent for industrial customers. The overall increase is 5.7 percent. Cascade serves an estimated 42,135 customers.
The order will have no effect on residential customers of Avista. A typical customer using 56 therms will see no change in their monthly bill of $55.17. Commercial and industrial rates also will not change. Avista serves an estimated 79,445 customers in Southern Oregon.
Several times in the last decade the adjustments have resulted in price decreases. However, increased demand, combined with limited supplies, has pushed prices higher the last few years. Fortunately prices have abated somewhat since they skyrocketed last December when Spot market prices that had been in the $2.50 range hit $49.95 per MMBtu. In May, they settled back to $5.00 per MMBtu. Spot prices have declined further since then and depending on market conditions it is possible prices could be lower for the winter of 2002-2003.
Action Customers Can Take
The Commission and the Oregon Office of Energy recommend consumers consider a variety of measures to lessen the impact of the rate increase, including:
  • Contacting the gas company to set up an equal payment plan to spread high winter bills over a 12-month period;

  • Turning the thermostat down to save up to 3% for each degree of reduction. A programmable thermostat that automatically reduces heat at night or while the house is unoccupied can lower heating bills by 5 to 10%.

  • Asking for an energy audit by the utility that provides a customer's heating can help mitigate the impact of the increase this winter and for years to come. Utilities are required to provide free energy audits. They also provide incentives such as rebates or loans for recommended measures.

  • Sealing cracks, gaps and other places where air leaks can generally result in a 10% heating and cooling savings;

  • Installing a full insulation job, which generally results in up to 30% savings on a heating bill.

  • Applying to the Oregon Office of Energy for state tax credits of up to $250 if they have an office-certified contractor seal furnace ducts. As much as 25% of the heat in a forced-air heating system may be lost through ductwork leaks;

  • Updating low-efficiency furnaces with higher-efficiency models. Some utilities offer a rebate for doing so. For example, Northwest Natural offers a $200 rebate for a high-efficiency furnace;

  • Making sure the existing furnace operates efficiently. Change or clean the furnace filter once a month during the heating season if needed. A tax credit is available for testing and servicing gas furnaces if done by contractors certified by the Office of Energy.
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