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Gas rate increase is sought by NW Natural

NW Natural Tuesday filed with the Oregon Public Utility Commission for a rate increase to cover higher wholesale natural gas costs. Residential customers would see an average monthly increase of 6.7 percent in their bills.

The filing reflects the cost of natural gas supplies NW Natural has purchased on behalf of its customers for the coming year. The company passes wholesale gas costs directly through to customers and makes no profit on the gas itself.

Under the proposed change, for an average residential customer using about 57 therms per month, the increase would mean an additional $5.30 per month, increasing the average bill from $79.50 to $84.80.

Most commercial customers would see a rate increase of 7.3 percent. Rates for industrial firm customers would increase by 8 percent and 10.9 percent, depending on the rate schedule. If approved by the OPUC, any increases would take effect Nov. 1.

'Natural gas prices were very high early in the year due to concerns remaining from the catastrophic Gulf hurricanes last year. A mild winter and high storage inventories caused market prices to fall from these highs, but prices are still significantly higher than they were this time last year,' said Randy Friedman, gas supply director for NW Natural.

Other factors affecting the wholesale price of gas include increased demand due to a stronger economy and more use of natural gas to fuel electric generation. Political unrest in the Middle East and problems with the Alaskan pipeline have driven up oil prices, Friedman said, which also affect the natural gas market. Domestic gas production has remained largely flat despite increased exploration and drilling for gas in recent years.