Utility rates changed at the start of the new year in California, Colorado and Oregon with the biggest shifts occurring at Xcel Energy‘s Colorado combination utility. Xcel natural gas utility bills increased 1.55% for residential customers and 5.45% for small businesses, while electric rates dropped 6.48% for residential users and 7.08% for small businesses. In California, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) residential gas charges increased 1.8% as of Jan. 1, compared to December rates, but the new rates are still slightly lower (0.3%) than those in effect in January 2011. PG&E residential electric rates increased compared to December (2.4%) and January 2011 (2.9%). In Oregon, the two electric utilities’ rates went in opposite directions with PacifiCorp‘s going up due to its reliance on more coal-fired generation and Portland General Electric‘s (PGE) going down slightly due to its greater use of gas-fired and hydroelectric generation. PacifiCorp rates increased 4.4% or $51 million with the “largest single factor” being higher coal costs, said the Oregon Public Utility Commission, which cut $10.9 million from the multi-state utility’s original request. PGE rates dropped 1.3% or $21.8 million due mostly to the replacement of some nonhydro contracts with less expensive gas-fired generation contracts.

Sempra U.S. Gas & Power has agreed to buy privately held Willmut Gas & Oil Co., the San Diego-based Sempra Energy subsidiary said. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Hattiesburg, MS-based Willmut provides natural gas service to about 20,000 customers in greater Hattiesburg as well as portions of Covington, Jones, Rankin and Simpson counties. The acquisition expands Sempra U.S. Gas & Power’s footprint in the Southeast. The company owns Mobile Gas, a distribution utility that serves 90,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Mobile, AL, along with several gas storage and pipeline assets in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. The deal requires approval by the Mississippi Public Service Commission.

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