The Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) will hold its annual meeting with the state’s three principal private-sector natural gas utilities Tuesday to assess the industry and get the utilities’ latest price forecasts for natural gas in the Pacific Northwest. PUC commissioners and staff use the annual summer meeting to get an early assessment of gas prices for the coming fall and winter, a commission spokesperson said.

There are about 360,000 Oregon natural gas customers receiving supplies from one of three utilities — Portland-based Northwest Natural Gas Co., Spokane, WA-based Avista Utilities and Seattle-based Cascade Natural Gas Corp., which just announced a gas rate decrease last Thursday for its gas utility operations in the state of Washington.

PUC staff will kick off this year’s discussion with an assessment of the five top national and regional natural gas issues, which are mostly dissimilar. National issues, such as unconventional production and electric generation demand on a national level, can impact major Northwest issues, such as the future of new gas supplies from the Rockies and the various pipeline proposals for bringing those supplies to the region.

A national and international supply review also will be provided by the head of the Northwest Gas Association, Dan Kirschner. The association basically sees growing demand and some promising options for added supplies in the Northwest, but “uncertain” public policies that could make it difficult for the region to balance supply/demand.

Executives with the three major gas utilities will make separate presentations detailing their gas purchasing outlooks, their expected average costs of gas in the upcoming 2009-2010 heating season, and summaries of their various conservation, efficiency and customer assistance programs.

Meanwhile, Cascade Natural Gas last Thursday filed its annual purchase gas adjustment (PGA) with the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, reflecting a wholesale gas price decline that results in a 13.67% drop in retail natural gas bills, effective Aug. 1. Cascade said the average residential monthly gas bill will drop by about $10.75. Commercial customers will see a slightly larger decrease of 14.31%.

Cascade said it intends to make a similar PGA decrease filing in Oregon this fall.

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