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UTC Approves Purchased Gas Cost Adjustment Filings
Bill assistance is available for those in need
OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission has approved rate increases for all four of the state’s investor-owned natural gas utilities Purchased Gas Cost Adjustments (PGAs) to recover gas costs incurred due to higher nationwide wholesale natural gas prices.
The rate increases, described below, become effective Nov. 1.
Gas customers struggling to pay their bills should contact their natural gas company about bill management options and assistance programs, as well as utility conservation and weatherization programs to help reduce gas usage and, thus, lower bills.
“We are aware that increasing natural gas rates when people are already facing inflation presents challenges for many Washingtonians,” said UTC Chair Dave Danner. “These increases are due to global events, and while we have been able to mitigate some of the impacts on customers, there is little we can do at the state level to avoid them. Our focus now is on ensuring customers have access to bill assistance, payment plans, and other options for managing higher gas prices.”
To help reduce the impact of higher bills for customers during the winter heating months, the commission also approved mitigation plans submitted by Avista Utilities, Puget Sound Energy, and Northwest Natural Gas. UTC staff worked closely with the companies to develop these plans.
Natural gas companies in Washington submit PGA filings each year to adjust rates based on the constantly changing cost of natural gas in the wholesale market. PGAs reflect the previous year’s actual costs and forecasted natural gas costs for the upcoming year. Companies pass the cost of gas purchases on to customers; companies do not profit from or lose money on gas purchases.
Higher gas costs are primarily caused by increases in natural gas market prices. Natural gas production has slowed while demand has increased, resulting in increased wholesale costs for Washington utilities. The war in Ukraine has forced European nations that have historically relied on imports of Russian gas to seek liquified natural gas from other sources, including the United States, further increasing demand.
This month the U.S. Energy Information Administration issued its Winter Fuels Outlook, which predicted natural gas rates nationwide would increase by 22% during the winter heating season. Regulators in Oregon this month approved natural gas utility rate increases as high as 25%, while regulators in Maine raised rates by about 20%. Also, this month Rhode Island regulators approved increases of 9.6%, North Dakota regulators approved increases of 17%, and Manitoba regulators approved an increase of 11.5%. Gas prices for customers of one Colorado utility are 54% higher than a year ago.
The variation in gas rates among Washington’s investor-owned utilities is due to regional differences in monthly residential usage, supply sources, conservation and energy efficiency programs, low-income program costs, and company gas purchasing practices.
The Public Counsel unit of the Attorney General’s office and The Energy Project, which advocate for consumers, supported yesterday’s action by the commission.
The initial PGA filing by Avista proposed to increase the average bill for a typical Avista residential natural gas customer using 109 therms during the winter by 12.19% or $14.96 a month, that would have resulted in an average monthly bill of $137.71 in the winter months.
The commission approved a mitigation plan submitted by Avista with its PGA to reduce the rate impact by $4.69.
With the approved mitigation, Avista customers using an average of 109 therms during the winter months can expect an increase of 8.37% or $10.27 a month, resulting in an average monthly bill of $133.02.
Bill assistance options for Avista customers
To help customers manage their energy use, Avista offers services to those who qualify for assistance in managing their energy bills, such as comfort level billing, payment arrangements, and special circumstantial referrals to area agencies and churches for help with housing, utilities, medical assistance and other needs. Avista also provides funding for energy assistance programs which are administered through community action agencies.
Energy efficiency and outreach programs are offered, including rebates and incentives as well as tips and resources to help customers manage their energy use and bills.
Learn more at www.myavista.com.
Spokane-based Avista serves nearly 170,000 natural gas customers in eastern Washington.
Puget Sound Energy
The initial PGA filing by PSE proposed to increase the average bill for a typical PSE residential natural gas customer using 100 therms during the winter by 17.41% or $19.39 a month, which would have resulted in an average monthly bill of $131.03 in the winter months.
The commission approved a mitigation plan submitted by PSE with its PGA to reduce the rate impact by $6.03.
With the approved mitigation plan, PSE customers using an average of 100 therms during the winter months can expect an increase of 12% or $13.36 a month, resulting in an average monthly bill of $125.
Bill assistance options for PSE customers
- PSE Home Energy Lifeline Program (HELP)
- PSE provides qualified customers with bill-payment assistance beyond the Washington state LIHEAP program. You do not need to owe a balance on your PSE bill to apply.
- LIHEAP program
- This government program provides financial assistance so eligible households can maintain affordable, dependable utility services and avoid disconnection. Your local community action agency can help you with eligibility requirements and your application
- The Salvation Army Warm Home Fund
- Administered by the Salvation Army and funded by voluntary contributions from PSE customers, employees, and investors. The Warm Home Fund provides short-term, emergency bill payment assistance to PSE customers facing financial difficulties. Contact your local community action agency to learn more.
- Payment arrangements
- If you don’t qualify for bill assistance, you still have options. By creating a payment plan, you don’t have to pay your outstanding bill all at once. PSE will work with you to produce a manageable payment schedule with a realistic timeline of up to 18 months.
- Home Weatherization Assistance
- This program provides free upgrades for single-family homes, manufactured homes, or eligible apartment buildings. Upgrades can include insulation, duct sealing, and much more.
- Efficiency Boost
- This PSE program offers increased rebates for equipment upgrades such as space heaters, water heaters, and more.
Learn more at www.PSE.com.
Bellevue-based PSE provides natural gas service to more than 870,000 customers in six Washington counties: King, Kittitas, Lewis, Pierce, Snohomish, and Thurston.
The initial PGA filing by NW Natural proposed to increase the average bill for a typical NW Natural residential natural gas customer using 57 therms by 18.27% or $12.41 a month, which would have resulted in an average monthly bill of $80.34.
The approved mitigation plan submitted by NW Natural with its PGA reduces the rate impact by $3.64.
Now, after approving the mitigation plan, NW Natural customers using an average of 57 therms can expect an increase of 12.91% or $8.77 a month, resulting in an average monthly bill of $76.70.
Bill assistance options for NWN customers
NW Natural assists customers to ease their energy burden through its low-income bill assistance program known as GREAT (Gas Residential Energy Assistance Tariff), its low-income weatherization program known as WA-LIEE (Washington Low-Income Energy Efficiency program), and its supplemental low-income assistance program known as GAP (Gas Assistance Program). These programs complement and are in addition to federal funding available through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). NW Natural works with local community action agencies to distribute these funds to income-qualified customers to alleviate their energy burden. The company also offers several payment plans to assist customers with managing their monthly expenses. Equal Pay is an option that smooths out customer bills over 12 months to make their bills more predictable. The company’s Level Pay and Current Bill Plus payment plans help provide more time and more manageable payments for those customers with existing balances. Customers can enroll in these payment plans and learn about other payment and assistance options by calling NW Natural’s customer service call center at 800-422-4012.
Learn more at www.nwnatural.com.
Portland-based NW Natural provides natural gas service to about 92,000 residential, commercial, and industrial customers in southwest Washington.
Cascade Natural Gas
The typical Cascade residential customer using 54 therms a month will see an increase of 20% or $13.54, for an average monthly bill of $74.54.
Cascade did not include a mitigation plan with its PGA.
Bill assistance options for Cascade customers
Cascade offers short and long-term payment arrangement plans and Weatherization Assistance Programs. The following bill payment assistance grant programs are currently available for Washington residential customers through the company’s partners at Community Action. Community Action has offices throughout our Washington service territory. These programs are available year-round and there is no charge for customers to apply. Washington residents can also dial 2-1-1 to request contact information for local agencies that can help with energy assistance options.
- LIHEAP: Grants up to $1,000 that can be used for past due balances, future bills, or to reconnect service for households with income up to 150% of the Federal Poverty Level. This is a federal program provided through the Washington Department of Commerce.
- Washington Energy Assistance Fund: Grants up to $500 that can be used for past due balances, future bills, or to reconnect service for households with income up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.
- Winter Help: Grants between $50 - $200 that can be used for past due balances, future bills, or to reconnect service for households with income up to 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.
CNG also works with other organizations that may provide bill payment assistance:
Learn more at www.cngc.com.
Kennewick-based Cascade serves more than 225,000 residential and business customers in 68 communities throughout the state, including Aberdeen, Bellingham, Bremerton, Kennewick, Longview, Moses Lake, Mount Vernon, Sunnyside, Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and Yakima.
The UTC regulates the private, investor-owned natural gas utilities in Washington. It is the commission’s responsibility to ensure regulated companies provide safe and reliable service to customers at reasonable rates, while allowing them the opportunity to earn a fair profit.