By Valerie Smith

The Bulletin

Cold winter weather and the increasing use of natural gas to generate electricity will likely lead to higher bills for Central Oregon consumers in November.

If rates rise, it will be the second year in a row, according to records from the Oregon Public Utility Commission and The Bulletin’s archives. But natural gas rates dropped each year between 2009-12.

Officials from Oregon’s three natural gas providers — Cascade Natural Gas, Avista Utilities and NW Natural — discussed the outlook for natural gas prices with the PUC on Tuesday.

In Central Oregon, Cascade provides natural gas to Bend, Chemult, Crescent, Gilchrist, La Pine, Madras, Metolius, Prineville, Redmond and Sunriver, according to the company’s website.

Mark Hanson, senior public relations representative for Cascade Natural Gas, said Friday the utility expects an increase of 8-10 percent, although the numbers have not been finalized. The company will likely file its rate information with the PUC around Aug. 1, he said. The PUC must decide whether to increase rates and by how much.

“The cost of natural gas is a straight pass through to customers,” he said. “The company does not earn a profit on the cost of gas.”

Last winter’s extreme cold — temperatures dropped to minus 15 on two nights in early December, according to the National Weather Service — led to an increase in natural gas usage, depleting supplies.

“That didn’t only happen in the Northwest; it happened nationwide,” said Erik Colville, senior gas utility analyst for the PUC.

Utility companies shifting electricity generation from coal to natural gas has also led to increased usage and a depletion of supplies, officials said.

— Reporter: 541-383-0325