For the second consecutive year, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) announced Wednesday it is lowering retail natural gas charges for the state's three major private-sector gas distribution utilities, effective Monday (Nov. 1).

In line for smaller monthly bills are customers of Portland-based NW Natural; Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities; and Seattle-based Cascade Natural Gas Corp.

The PUC changes the rates annually to keep them aligned with wholesale prices. Some years, the regulators have to raise rates in the face of wholesale price increases, but at the present time wholesale charges are flat or declining in most of the nation. The amounts of the adjustments vary because of different buying strategies on a company by company basis, the PUC said.

Reductions vary from 1.3% to 4.8% among the three utilities, and each have different monthly dollar impacts on residential and small business customers. The breakdown is as follows:

NW Natural serves customers in northwest Oregon; Avista covers the southwest and northeastern areas; and Cascade serves central Oregon around the city of Bend. Oregon gas supplies come from a combination of western Canada and the U.S. Rocky Mountain regions.

"Wholesale natural gas prices the companies pay are lower so those savings will be passed along to customers," said PUC Chairman Ray Baum. "This means households and businesses can use their money for other expenses."

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