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Southwest Gas billing methods contested

DARIN OLDE, Sierra Sun

Some customers of Southwest Gas Corporation were confused over an article in last week’s Sierra Sun about the rising cost of natural gas because the cost per therm, a measurable unit of gas, is listed twice on their bills.

Residents complained that the cost of gas is higher than the current rate of $1.21 per therm, noting additional charges of between $.56 and $.62 per therm.

Southwest Gas Corporation, however, says that the additional costs are not the gas costs; they are the service costs of bringing the gas to the customer, which depends on the volume of gas.

The charges listed on the bill as “Gas Usage” is actually broken down into the “Baseline Rate” and the “Tier II Rate.”

The charge is tiered, which means if one uses less than 50 therms, they are charged $.06 less per therm. The actual usage cost is based on an average between the two rates.

“If you use more gas you should pay more,” said Roger Buehrer, spokesman for Southwest Gas. “It is the same way with electricity.”

The utility set the usage price for natural gas in Truckee on April 1, 1995, about the time it moved into the area.

“Our purchasing department is trying to purchase gas in the most cost-effective manner possible,” Buehrer added. “It is our responsibility. The CPUC will make the gas company absorb those costs if we are not doing everything we can to help keep our customer costs down.”

Southwest Gas has been looking into contract gas over the long term in an effort to fix a lower gas rate, but Buehrer said there are no short term contracts unless you look “way out into the future.”

“It was much better for us to buy on the spot in previous years because it was cheaper. And I can tell you that in the years before we saved our customers millions of dollars,” Buehrer said. “That was before this last summer.”

Regardless of the gas cost, the usage rates remain unchanged since 1995. Changing the usage rate requires that the company file for a change with the CPUC first.


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