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Avista natural gas customers’ bills to rise

Avista’s natural gas customers will pay 9.4 percent more for heat this winter as a result of higher wholesale prices.

The new rates take hold Friday for about 150,000 customers in Spokane and other parts of Eastern Washington. A typical household, using 68 therms of natural gas per month, will see a $5.44 monthly increase, for a revised bill of $63.07.

State regulators approved higher gas prices for four investor-owned utilities this week, citing changing market conditions.

After dropping to 10-year lows in 2012, natural gas prices began climbing again this year.

Wholesale gas costs account for about 55 percent of an Avista customer’s bill. The rate hike passes the higher wholesale costs to customers but doesn’t increase the utility’s profit margin, according to the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission’s staff.

Gas rates are adjusted at least once a year to reflect market conditions.

In 2012, Avista’s gas customers benefited from two rate reductions resulting from the record-low prices, said Steve Harper, Avista’s director of gas supply. Residential customers’ bills dropped by 6 percent in March 2012, with another 4.3 percent decrease on Nov. 1, 2012.