Please, PUC, don't freeze us out

August 20, 2008 12:00 am

Baker County residents who heat their homes with natural gas might have less reason to shiver when they ponder the approaching winter.

That is so long as Oregon's Public Utility Commission is diligent in its duties.

A month ago the temperature's inevitable seasonal plunge seemed an especially treacherous trend.

Cascade Natural Gas, which has 3,100 residential customers and 500 business customers in Baker County, predicted that it would ask PUC to approve a rate increase of 15 percent to 20 percent, starting Nov. 1.

Since then, however, prices for natural gas from Alberta, Canada, where Oregon gets much of its supply, have plummeted by 40 percent.

This sounds like great news for gas customers who were bracing for big boosts in their monthly bills.

And it might be.

What's not certain, though, is how much the recent drop in Alberta's prices will affect the rates Oregonians will pay for their natural gas this winter.

An official from Northwest Natural Gas, Oregon's largest supplier, said last week that the company will still ask PUC to approve a rate hike, but possibly a 25-percent to 30-percent increase rather than 40 percent figure as Northwest Natural estimated in July.

There's no guarantee, of course, that Canadian prices will continue to drop. They might rise.

And gas suppliers can't lay in their entire winter's supply at the current low rates.

Uncertainties aside, we hope the PUC — which is, after all, supposed to look out for Oregon utility customers — will scrutinize the proposed rates that each of the state's three natural gas suppliers will soon submit.

Cascade is scheduled to file its rate request with PUC on Aug. 29, said Bob Valdez, a spokesman for the agency.

It's apt to be a rough winter regardless, what with gasoline and food prices higher than a year ago.

We don't want Baker County residents to feel guilty about twisting the thermostat dial a couple notches when the temperature goes below zero.