Prepare yourself for gas bill spike |

Prepare yourself for gas bill spike

Jeff Munson
Photo Ilustration by Dan Thrift and Jeff Munson Heating your home with natural gas while cost more.

Southwest Gas is advising its Lake Tahoe customers in California and Nevada that natural gas bills will be higher this winter because of rising prices in the natural gas market and general rate increases approved earlier this year.

The company expects bills for the average California Lake Tahoe Basin residential customer using 88 therms to climb from $102.31 last January to $139.09 this January.

On the Nevada side, the 8,000 Lake Tahoe customers will see a 40 percent hike in their bills this winter.

Avista Gas, which operates South Lake Tahoe’s natural gas distribution, is being bought by Southwest Gas for $15 million. The sale is expected to be completed by February. The average winter bill for Avista is $96.13.

“We are going to assume the current rate structure of Avista,” said Southwest Gas spokesman Roger Buehrer. “Their rates, at least at this point, will not change unless Avista has a change between now and then.”

The price Southwest Gas pays for natural gas is passed on to customers dollar for dollar with no profit allowed, said Dennis Redmond, Northern Nevada Division vice president.

Southwest’s gas buyers began seeing more volatility in natural gas prices about five years ago. To minimize the price fluctuations, the company purchases about half of its gas supplies for this winter with fixed-price contracts.

“This will help protect customers from price spikes in the marketplace this winter,” Redmond said.

Prices for the remainder of the supplies will be determined on a monthly or daily basis, depending on the marketplace. The company’s gas buyers search for and negotiate daily with dozens of producers for the best-priced gas possible, he said.

“The reasons for the increase are many,” Redmond said. “But they all boil down to one underlying fact: Demand for natural gas is increasingly faster than gas supplies. While costs have increased substantially, we want to reassure our customers that natural gas supplies are adequate this winter for our customers.”

Southwest Gas customers have already experienced some of the increases when a rate increase was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission last spring. Those increases were not so noticeable because they occurred when gas usage is traditionally at its lowest. But now, with cold weather here, winter bills will reflect not only higher natural gas prices, but increased usage as well.

For customers needing assistance, applications for the California Alternate Rates for Energy program are available from the local Southwest office. In addition, customers can call Project Go Inc. for information on the Low-Income Energy Efficiency Weatherization Project at (800) 655-7705. Spanish-speaking customers can call (866) 812-5766.

The company also has a fuel fund, Energy Share, to help customers with one-time financial emergencies. The fund is administered through the Salvation Army, which can be reached at (530) 583-1222.

Customers can reduce the impact of winter’s high bills by enrolling in Southwest’s Equal Payment Plan. The program equalizes the gas bill into 12 monthly payments.

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