HIgher Natural Gas Prices Approved

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Nevadans will pay anywhere from about
13 percent to nearly 25 percent more for natural gas, under terms
of orders approved Thursday by the state Public Utilities
The biggest increase, 24.5 percent for typical gas customers in
the Reno-Sparks area, was granted to Sierra Pacific Power Co. Such
customers will see their monthly bills climb from just under $64 to
just over $79 for 59 therms of natural gas.
The increase will provide Sierra Pacific with another $34
million in annual revenues. That's in addition to $64 million
authorized by the PUC in new annual revenues for electricity
provided by the utility.
Typical residential customers using 715 kilowatt hours of
electricity every month will see a 6.5 percent increase in their
Sierra Pacific electric bills, from just over $86 to about $92.
Sierra Pacific said the rate changes were needed because of
unprecedented high prices for natural gas being experienced across
the nation. Utility executive Mary Simmons said it could have been
worse, but Sierra contracted for winter gas supplies before a
recent run-up in prices from its suppliers.
The federal government has predicted that regional prices for
natural gas this winter will be anywhere from 30 percent to 60
percent higher than last year.
Besides the Sierra Pacific rate increase, the PUC authorized
increases for Southwest Gas Corp. that will result in southern
Nevadans seeing a nearly 16 percent increase in natural gas bills.
The utility's northern Nevada customers will get an increase of
nearly 13 percent.
The PUC's orders for the two utilities were among seven issued
Friday in response to an upward spiral in wholesale costs of
natural gas. Over the last year, natural gas prices have gone up
130 percent. The agency said recent hurricanes, reduced supplies
and higher-priced gas futures contracts all figured in the higher
Commissioner Jo Ann Kelly said Nevada is better off than some
other areas, due in part to its supply sources, pipeline capacity,
cost-control practices and other factors.
The commission "intends to keep vigilant on its oversight to
keep natural gas prices as low as possible during these critical
times," Kelly added.
Among the other orders was one updating a consumer "bill of
rights." Among other things, the bill provides that utilities
can't cut off service due to nonpayment when temperatures drop
below 25 degrees in southern Nevada and 15 degrees in northern
The temperatures are higher if a consumer is older than 62 or
has documented health problems.
Also approved were letters to federal regulators noting volatile
gas prices and supporting efforts to protect the market from