Falling natural gas prices benefit utility customers in Clark County

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The decline in natural gas prices in the U.S. has benefited Clark County customers of Portland-based Northwest Natural Gas Co.

In October 2011, the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission approved a request by Northwest

Natural to reduce its rates for the third year in a row. Under that reduction, the monthly bill for an average residential customer using 58 therms per month decreased by $1.51, or 2.2 percent. The average commercial customer’s monthly bill decreased by $6.36, or 2.2 percent.

In Clark County, Northwest Natural has 64,958 residential customers and 5,594 commercial customers.

Clark Public Utilities, which provides electricity to more than 183,000 residential and business customers in Clark County, gets its energy from a mix of sources, including Bonneville Power Administration, its natural gas-fired River Road generating plant and purchases on the open market.

Erica Erland, a spokeswoman for the utility, said the decline in natural gas prices doesn’t have an immediate effect on the utility’s operations or on rates.

For the past year, the utility has mostly kept the River Road plant offline because it’s been cheaper to purchase power from other sources, Erland said. If natural gas prices remain low in the future, Erland said, that would give the utility “additional flexibility” in purchasing power and serving customers.