Natural gas rate hike OK’d

By Eric Fetters / Herald Writer

Natural gas customers in Snohomish County will see their monthly bills jump by more than $7 a month starting Sunday, following the Utilities and Transportation Commission’s approval Wednesday of a rate hike.

Puget Sound Energy argued the increase was necessary to cover the rising wholesale cost of natural gas, though spot prices for the fuel have fluctuated up and down during 2006.

With the state regulators’ approval, the average residential gas customer’s bill will rise by 8.8 percent, or $7.26 a month, according to PSE.

That brings the gas bill for the average household – using about 60 therms a month – to $90.29, when equalized over the year. Commercial customers generally will see larger increases, PSE said.

Because the cost of the fuel has risen repeatedly in recent years, it now accounts for 70 percent of the average customer’s bill, while PSE’s charge for delivering the gas makes up the rest. This week’s rate adjustment marks the fourth consecutive year PSE has asked for an increase to cover higher gas costs, according to the utilities commission.

Last year at this time, the gas company received permission to raise its rates by 13 percent, or about $11 a month, as natural gas prices spiked in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The utility has asked the state to allow for a larger permanent rate increase, which is being reviewed by state regulators.

So far, Cascade Natural Gas, which serves northern Snohomish County, has not asked for a rate adjustment this season.

On Wednesday, natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange plunged to their lowest level since December 2002. The 7 percent decline in natural gas futures reflects record levels of stored reserves, due to last year’s relatively mild winter.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Reporter Eric Fetters: 425-339-3453 or fetters@heraldnet.com.