As Oregon’s utilities continue to respond to a state regulation that goes into effect in 2021 with the intention of reducing the “energy burden” for low-income people, NW Natural has suggested a bill discount scheme.
The discount programme proposed by the gas utility is very similar to one recently approved by the regulators for Portland General Electric.
There are three different levels of discounts available: 25% off for households with earnings at or below 30% of the median income for their household size in the state; 20% off for households with incomes up to 45% of the median; and 15% off for those with incomes up to 60% of the median.
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In order for the new tariffs to go into effect in November 2022, when the heating season for 2022-23 begins, NW Natural urged the regulators to approve the programme by the middle of July at the latest.
NW Natural anticipates that approximately 7,500 of its customers will sign up for the programme. To make up for the reductions, the average residential ratepayer’s bill would go up by around 9 cents if the number were to remain the same. The price increase for commercial clients would be around 32 cents each month.
In the past, the Public Utility Commission has followed the long-standing principle of treating all customers within a class – residential, commercial, or industrial — the same when it establishes rates for investor-owned utilities. However, these new prices constitute a shift to that policy.
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The utilities, as well as a variety of activist groups and the Citizens’ Utility Board, which advocates for ratepayers, all supported the law.
Those in favour of the law stated that although state weatherization and bill assistance programmes were beneficial, they still left thousands of households with an unaffordable gap in their home energy costs.
Six per cent of a household’s income is generally believed to be the cutoff point for an energy burden that is manageable, while ten per cent is considered to be “severely energy burdened.” The counties in Eastern Oregon have the highest number of energy-burdened households in the state relative to their percentage of low-income households.
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