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Oregon Public Utility Commission approves the rate rate increase in residential, commercial and industrial rates

PMG FILE PHOTO - For the first time in many years NW Natural, Avista Utlities and Cascade Natural Gas Company have increased rates for natural gas customers.

Typically, NW Natural and a pair of its fellow utilities send out a notice about this time of the year notifying all customers of a decrease in rates for natural gas.

This year? Not so much.

For the first time in many years NW Natural, Avista Utlities and Cascade Natural Gas Company have increased rates for natural gas customers. The rate hike, approved by the Oregon Public Utility Commission, took effect Nov. 1.

The increase, according to a press release, came about because the cost of natural gas spiked over the past year due to a pipeline explosion last winter, which impacted regional gas supplies.

"The PUC approves adjustments to each company's rates annually to reflect changes in the actual cost of wholesale priced natural gas, known as the Purchased Gas Adjustment (PGA)," the release said. "This allows companies to pass through their actual costs of purchasing gas to customers without a markup on the price. Since 2009, Oregon residents have benefitted from a decrease in natural gas rates due to the PGA, except 2013 and 2014."

The PUC approved a 2.4 percent increase for NW Natural customers, which comprise the Newberg, Dundee and eastern Yamhill County areas, as well as St. Paul and 670,000 customers throughout northwest Oregon. Residential customers will see an average $2.31 monthly hike from $52.43 to $54.74. Commercial customers will see an average $4.60 per month hike from $193.35 to $197.95. Industrial customers will experience a monthly increase of $555.82 from $17,324 to $17.879.

"We appreciate the members of the public … for reminding us of the impact that our decisions have on customers of the utilities we regulate," said PUC Chairwoman Megan Decker. "We recognize that existing low-income programs are inadequate at meeting the needs of all customers to help address adjustment in rates, but we'll continue to find ways to close the gap."

The PUC suggested these measures to reduce natural gas use:

Turn down thermostats to save up to 3 percent for each degree. The PUC suggests installing a programmable thermostat that reduces heat at night or when nobody is home, lowering heating bills by 5 to 10 percent.

Update low-efficiency furnaces and water heaters

Fully insulate homes and save up to 30 percent on heating bills.

Conduct an online home energy review through the Energy Trust of Oregon.

Ask NW Natural about its payment assistance program.

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