NW Natural customers who use natural gas to heat their homes are about to see a major increase in their bills.
Starting Nov. 1, Northwest Natural bills will rise by 14%. After the winter season, bills will jump again for a 25% total increase.
The state’s Public Utility Commission, which regulates investor-owned utility companies, approved the rate increase after a contested original settlement. NW Natural had asked for a $82 million increase in rates, but the commission eventually approved a $62.7 million increase.
The average residential customer in Oregon pays about $78 per month. They will see an increase to about $88 per month starting Nov. 1 and again to $95 in April.
NW Natural has about 2.5 million customers in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
Other natural gas utilities in Oregon also will see rate increases starting Nov. 1, according to the Citizens Utility Board, including 25% for Cascade Gas customers and 18% for Avista Utilities.
The majority of the Northwest Natural increase will go to fund capital investments, including $21.3 million to replace a gas main in Salem.
The second increase expected to generate $83 million is for the increased cost of methane gas.
State regulators rejected NW Natural’s attempt to increase profit margins, give bonuses to executives, lobby public officials and increase advertising dollars.
Among the advertising NW Natural sought to take on was a children’s activity book that defined natural gas as clean energy.
“We’re extremely gratified to see that the commission is agreeing with us,” said Carra Sahler, staff attorney at Green Energy Institute at the Lewis & Clark Law School, which filed an appeal on behalf of seven environmental and community-based organizations.
“It’s extremely rare for a public utility commission to modify a stipulation, so this is really exciting for us to see,” Sahler said.
Several U.S. cities have banned or are considering bans on new hook ups for natural gas to mitigate the impact on climate change.
The Eugene City Council in July directed city staff to draft ordinances prohibiting natural gas hookups in new homes by June 2023 and to schedule a public hearing on the ordinance in the fall.
The PUC also reduced the subsidy NW Natural can provide to new residential developments to $2,300 as of Nov. 1 from $2,875. In its final order, the PUC said the rate will be reevaluated each year, and adjusted each time, though it doesn’t say how much.
“Our analysis showed that these subsidies benefit shareholders but are harmful to existing customers. As Oregon commits to reducing climate pollution, NW Natural’s expansion of the gas system places a real risk on Oregon households,” said Bob Jenks, Executive Director of Oregon Citizens Utility Board, a consumer advocate.
Bill Poehler covers Marion County for the Statesman Journal. Contact him at bpoehler@StatesmanJournal.com