Retail natural gas charges will increase Friday (Nov. 1) in the state of Washington, with the rate hikes varying over a wide range for the state's four private-sector gas distribution utilities. Washington state regulators approved the rate hikes on Wednesday.

The action by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) was the culmination of the annual purchased gas cost adjustment (PGA) in which utilities ask for rate changes (up and down) based on their most recent wholesale gas costs.

Average retail increases will vary from less than 1% and pennies more a month to an 18% hike adding $8.50 to a typical residential customer's monthly bill.

Gas distributors in Washington are required to file a PGA to the UTC at least every 15 months. The total cost of gas is passed through to customers without any profits derived by the utilities.

Supplies for the four Pacific Northwest gas distributors come from Alberta and British Columbia in western Canada as well as the U.S. Rockies.

In western Washington, the state's largest gas provider, Bellevue, WA-based Puget Sound Energy, was granted an increase of 0.4%, or a 36 cent/month increase for its 783,000 gas utility customers spread over parts of six counties, including the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area.

In eastern Washington, Spokane-based Avista Utilities was approved for a 9.4% rate hike, driving up typical monthly residential bills more than $5 for its 150,000 gas utility customers.

The largest percentage increase was given to Cascade Natural Gas Co., 18%, or about $8.50/month for the typical residential customer. Part of the increase was due to the end of a year-long refund the Kennewick, WA-based utility was giving to its nearly 200,000 customers for past overcollections.

In the part of greater metropolitan Portland that spills across the Columbia River into Washington, NW Natural received a 1.5% increase, or a little less than $1/month, for its 72,000 customers in three counties north of its Portland headquarters.