Oregonians who depend on natural gas for their homes will see a spike in their bills, starting next month.
The Oregon Public Utility Commission increased rates by at least 18% for NW Natural, Cascade Gas and Avista Utilities customers. Officials at the PUC said high prices for natural gas and supply issues that the commodity is facing worldwide are contributing to the rate hikes approved for the investor-owned utilities it regulates.
Cascade Gas customers will see a 25% increase starting Nov. 1. Avista Utilities customers will see an 18% increase. Both were approved after the utilities’ made the case that customers need to pay more to cover the rising wholesale costs of methane gas.
On Nov. 1, NW Natural customers will see a 14% increase, in the first of two rate increases that will be rolled out in the months ahead. The second increase — bringing the NW Natural overall rate jump to 25% — will be delayed until March to offset winter heating costs, when bills are typically higher. The first step in raising rates was due to the high price of gas. The second was to pay for safety repairs, maintenance and replacing the utility’s accounting systems.
David Anderson, NW Natural president and CEO, said delaying the full impact of a 25% rate increase should help customers get through the winter’s high-heat months.
”We recognize the hardship that customers are facing right now when the costs of everyday goods – from the grocery store to the gas pump – are going up,” he said in a prepared statement.
Oregon Public Utility Commission Chair Megan Decker also acknowledged those financial pressures.
“We recognize that increasing rates at a time when Oregonians are already dealing with high inflation presents challenges for many customers,” Decker said in a statement released Thursday. “Unfortunately, global events drive the price for utilities to purchase natural gas. There’s simply no way to avoid these higher prices impacting customers, although we were able to defer some of the impacts for residential customers.”
The rate increases come at a time when society’s debate about limiting fossil fuels like coal and gasoline is expanding to question the role of natural gas as an energy source.
NW Natural provides natural gas – a fossil fuel made up mostly of methane – to about 2.5 million people in northwest Oregon and southwest Washington.
Oregon Citizens’ Utility Board Executive Director Bob Jenks said the increases will hit customers hard, especially since last year the utility raised their rates by 12%. He said his group worked with NW Natural to stagger out the increases to warmer months to make it more affordable. The Citizens’ Utility Board is a nonprofit that advocates for residential consumers in the state.
“It is a sign that we can sort of work together and try to help do what’s right for the customer,” Jenks said. “I do appreciate the company responding positively and working out something that’s a fairly creative way to alleviate some of the problems.”
The Public Utility Commission declined NW Natural’s request for additional increases for company profits and advertising. Environmental justice and climate action groups say this was a major win for Oregonians.
Earlier this year, dozens of organizations and lawmakers called for an investigation over what they claimed was false advertising by NW Natural, in part in the form of a children’s activity book portraying the company’s methane-based fossil fuel as a source of “clean” energy.