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Wholesale Natural Gas Prices Prompt Arizona Regulators to Call Forum

Responding to growing concerns about retail natural gas utility bills this winter in the face of ever-increasing wholesale natural gas prices, the Arizona Corporation Commission (ACC) Thursday announced it will hold a forum Sept. 8 to hear from utilities and consumer groups on preparations to help mitigate high winter gas utility bills. At the same time the ACC is reminding customers that the utilities it regulates don't make a profit on the cost of gas.

The state regulatory commission staff noted that Arizona residential customers use about seven times as much gas in January as they do in August.

"The meteoric rise in natural gas prices has us concerned that customers need to be prepared now for high winter heating bills," said ACC Chairman Jeff Hatch-Miller. "Consumers of all income levels will see higher bills but we are especially concerned about low- and fixed-income consumers."

With each of its elected commissioners hoping to get ahead of the curve of what could be a natural gas winter high bill problem, the ACC wants the forum to provide presentations from utilities about their consumer education and outreach plans. Consumer advocacy groups will be asked to attend and offer comments, suggestions or updates about their own outreach programs. The forum format will be what the regulators call "an open comment period."

As one commissioner, Kris Mayes, said, the regulators want to be assured that the utilities are "doing everything in their power" to help forewarn their customers about the higher gas bills.

Traditionally, the utilities have offered various high bill mitigation programs, such as budget billing, low-income assistance, and others, and Commissioner Bill Mundell said he wants to be updated on how those programs will be employed this winter.

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