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Natural gas bills going up in November

Local natural gas customers will see higher prices beginning in November due in part to a pipeline explosion in Canada last winter.

Avista Utilities customers will face one increase in November, followed by a second, smaller increase beginning Jan. 15, 2020.

Once both increases are in effect, Avista residential customers will be paying 15.2% more — lifting average monthly bills by $7.30 from $48.11 to $55.41, according to figures from the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

Rates for commercial customers will go up 11.8%, boosting average monthly bills by $20.51 from $174.15 to $194.66.

Industrial customers face a 16.4% increase. Their average monthly bills will rise by $269.49, going from $1,640.57 to $1,910.06.

The PUC said it approved increases for Avista Utilities, Cascade Natural Gas Company and NW Natural after many years of rate decreases related to wholesale natural gas costs.

An October 2018 pipeline explosion in British Columbia disrupted natural gas supplies in Canada, Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

No one was killed, but about 100 residents evacuated their homes after the explosion sent a large fireball and smoke into the sky.

The company Enbridge announced it finished repairing its 3-foot diameter pipeline three weeks after the explosion, but capacity delays continued through the fall and winter, according to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission.

Washington’s utility regulators also approved rate increases that begin in November for customers in that state.

This summer, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada sent a letter to Enbridge stating the likely cause of the pipeline rupture was cracks from corrosion due to moisture.

Enbridge said it increased its pipeline inspections and conducted system-wide checks for corrosion following the 2018 explosion in Canada.

In January of this year, an Enbridge pipeline explosion injured at least two people in Ohio.

An Enbridge blast in August killed a woman in Kentucky, leveled buildings, caused a 30-acre fire and left a 13-foot deep crater, according to the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Opponents of a proposed 229-mile underground natural gas pipeline through southwest Oregon point to the explosions as proof pipelines are risky.

Pembina, the Canadian company proposing the pipeline, said it would be built with a variety of safety features.

Avista sought rate increases because of the explosion in Canada and also to cover other costs, according to the Oregon Public Utility Commission.

PUC Chair Megan Decker said the commission understands rising prices can place a burden on customers. The commission reviewed public comments, including from the Jackson County Fuel Committee, a volunteer group that helps residents in need get firewood and weatherize their homes.

“We appreciate the members of the public and the Jackson County Fuel Committee for reminding us of the impact that our decisions have on customers of the utilities we regulate,” Decker said. “We recognize that existing low-income programs are inadequate at meeting the needs of all customers to help address adjustments in rates, but we’ll continue to find ways to close that gap.”

The PUC offers the following tips to save money on natural gas bills:

  • Turn down thermostats to save up to 3% for each degree. A programmable thermostat that turns down the heat at night and when no one is home can lower heating bills by 5-10%.
  • Fully insulate homes to save up to 30% on heating bills.
  • Clean or change furnace filters once a month during the heating season.
  • Ask your natural gas provider about bill assistance programs.
  • Conduct an online

    Home Energy Review through Energy Trust of Oregon.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Local natural gas customers will see a rate increase in November followed by a smaller increase in January 2020. File photo