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News Release
Commission Lowers Gas Bills
September 27, 2002 (2002 - 025) (UG 151, UG 150, UG 149)
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 – Following its annual review of wholesale natural gas prices, the Oregon Public Utility Commission, is ordering lower bills for customers of the State’s three natural gas distribution companies. The companies are Northwest Natural, Avista and Cascade.
Customers will pay lower rates starting October 1, 2002, as a result of less expensive wholesale natural gas costs the companies incurred over the past 12 months and are forecast to experience over the coming year.
"This is certainly good news. These lower rates will leave Oregonians who use natural gas with a little more money in their pockets than they had last year," Commissioner Lee Beyer said. "After the increases we experienced the last couple of years, customers will be glad to see this reversal."
The monthly bill for a typical residential customer of Northwest Natural who uses 59.8 therms will decrease by $6.79 or, 10.5 percent. A typical customer’s bill will be reduced to $57.80 from $64.59. Commercial customers will receive a 14.9 percent rate decrease. Northwest Natural serves approximately 486,017 customers.
Northwest Natural’s adjustment includes the effects of a recently approved elasticity mechanism, bill payment assistance and public purpose charges order, which slightly offset the amount of Northwest Natural’s decrease.
The adjustment reduces Avista residential bills by 7 percent. A typical residential customer using 54 therms per month will see a reduction of $3.18 toward a lower monthly bill of $42.15. Commercial customers will receive an 8.2 percent rate decrease. This is in addition to a Commission approved 15.3 percent overall decrease that went into effect April 2, 2002. Avista serves approximately 80,285 customers in Southern Oregon.
The Commission decision also cuts Cascade residential bills by 2.5 percent. The monthly bill for a typical customer using 62 therms per month will drop by $1.51, to $57.93 from $59.44. Commercial customers will receive a 3.9 percent rate decrease. Cascade serves approximately 45,265 customers in Central and Northeastern Oregon.
Wholesale natural gas prices did not see the extreme volatility this past year that was a major factor in the winter of 2000-2001.
The $5.00/MMbtu to $7.00/MMbtu cash prices that were predicted by several trading houses as late as July 2001, never materialized for the 2001-2002 heating season. Prices were affected by more supply than demand and unprecedented amounts of gas in storage.
Even though rates are declining, there are things consumers can do to lessen their energy costs, 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 the customer´s heating. 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.
  • Fully insulating their residence 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. All three natural gas companies 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.