Gas customers will see rate hike by May |

Gas customers will see rate hike by May

Susan Wood

Call it May Day for Avista gas customers trying to cut expenses.

By the time the month rolls around, the natural gas bill for the typical user will reflect an increase of at least $12.77.

That’s the average hike for the typical user in the summer months, which equates to 35 therms a month. April is the first full month since the increase became effective March 21.

The 61 percent increase Avista Utilities applied for in February with the California Public Utilities Commission should hit the 18,000 Lake Tahoe customers in the Golden State harder in the winter.

A typical user at that time of year- one who consumes 107 therms a month – may see a bill amounting to $56.52 go up an additional $39.05.

The Spokane, Wash.-based utility company, calling the rate hike a “pass-through increase,” claims the bump is necessary to defray the soaring wholesale costs the distributor is currently shelling out to its multiple suppliers for the commodity that’s traded on the open market.

Essentially, the reason points to the supply and demand theory – the latter overwhelmingly exceeding the former, spokeswoman Robin Dunlap explained.

But when a utility company buys fuel for more than one state, does the energy crisis in California allow the company to capitalize on it with a rate inequity?

“The state would not let us do that,” Dunlap said, referring to the CPUC. “We’re not making any money on this increase.”

The company imposed its last increase for Lake Tahoe, California customers in January 1995.

In comparison, Avista raised the natural gas rates on Oregon users by 29 percent in January and 19 percent last October.

And its Washington customers also saw their rates go up 29 percent in January and 28 percent four months prior.

According to the Spokesman Review, natural gas rates have doubled in Spokane, Wash., since November 1999. The typical user there, defined as one who consumes 80 therms a month, pays $67.50.

And the city pays some of the lowest rates in the state, the newspaper added.

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