Las Vegas, NV-based Southwest Gas Corp. Thursday asked Nevada state regulators for separate rate hikes totaling $76.5 million for its north and south customers to cover increasing gas costs, with the bulk of the hike proposed for customers in the southern half of the state who do not have access to Canadian gas.

The utility noted that winter supplies will be adequate, but prices will be “significantly” higher than last winter.

To lessen the impact, the utility proposed that half the increase to cover purchased natural gas costs be made effective March 1, 2004 and the other half June 1, 2004. Southwest Gas said it needed to assess $59.8 million on the 475,000 southern Nevada customers, and $16.7 million on those in the north (102,000 customers).

The percentage increases being sought are 19.2% for the average customers in the south, and 17.2% for those in the north. The regional differences in the rate hike and costs are reflected by the fact that the two parts of the state are served by entirely different supply basins — the Rockies and Canada for the north; and the Southwest sources for the south — and the two distribution pipeline systems are not interconnected.

The rate filing is in addition to the normal annual gas-cost rate adjustments, which before the increase earlier this year had produced three straight rate decreases, according to a Southwest Gas spokesperson. The utility earlier in the year asked the Nevada regulators for a mechanism of monthly rate adjustments to reflect changes in the wholesale market on a more timely basis, but the request was rejected. To avoid a much larger rate hike request at the normal June 1 filing time, Southwest made Thursday’s interim filing.

In the company’s last gas-cost recovery case in November, the Nevada Public Utilities Commission set retail base rates for wholesale fuel costs at 46 cents/therm in southern Nevada, and 60 cents/therm in northern Nevada. Southwest Gas said those rates were based on actual gas costs last winter, and that this winter the utility will be paying 53 cents/therm in the south and 70 cents/therm in the north.

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