Even before the 2008 nationwide economic recession, natural gas sales in Oregon had begun a slide that continued for at least two years, according to energy statistics for 2010 that were released Friday by the state’s Public Utility Commission (PUC).

A 10-year summary of the annual revenue and throughput for the state’s three major natural gas investor-owned utilities (IOU) show steady declines during the past five years following all time peak levels of gas sales in 2005.

Last year Oregon’s three gas IOUs collectively accounted for 782 million therms of gas delivered and overall sales of $905 million. Both numbers are far below the peak levels established in 2005 — 922 million therms and more than $1 billion in sales for five consecutive years until 2010.

NW Natural is by far the largest of three gas distribution utilities, accounting for 75% of all gas sales in the state last year and 82% of all gas therms delivered to end-users. The PUC publishes the annualized statistics as part of its “Statistics Book” summarizing annualized statistics on the four main industries it regulates — gas, electric, water and telecommunications.

While the sales and therm figures have been declining, the average number of gas IOU customers has increased from 690,918 in 2005 to 760,886 last year, the Oregon PUC report showed.

Spokane, WA-based Avista peaked in Oregon in 2008 with $195.6 million in gas sales and 88.8 million therms, compared with 2010 totals of $155.2 million and 78.5 million therms, respectively. Kennewick, WA-based Cascade peaked for sales in 2008 ($104 million) and for therms in 2007 (87.5 million therms), compared with its 2010 totals of $73.8 million in sales on 69.2 million therms delivered in Oregon.

It was 2007 for NW Natural’s sales peak ($896.4 million) and 2005 for its peak in therms delivered (755.2 million therms). Last year, however, the Portland, OR-based gas-only utility recorded $676.2 million in sales on 634.7 therms delivered.

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