Citizens Gas division seeks to pass on higher costs<BR>

The natural gas division of Citizens Utilities plans to raise monthly bills for residences from 27 percent to 31 percent over the next two years to recoup higher gas prices.

Citizens Arizona Gas on Tuesday filed an application with the Arizona Corporation Commission for a temporary increase in natural gas costs, ACC spokeswoman Heather Murphy said.

Citizens is seeking to impose the hike as soon as Sept.

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Citizens is seeking to increase the costs from 59 to 78 cents per therm – the standard measurement for natural gas – according to Tom Broderick, director for business development for Citizens in Flagstaff.

The typical single-family home in the Kingman area uses 700 to 800 therms per year.

After the prices rise for the two years, Citizens plans to revert to the existing rate, "dependent on weather and gas prices, mostly gas prices," he said.

"Higher oil prices, a sudden increase in demand for electric generation and a temporarily diminished natural gas supply pushed natural gas prices nationwide to unprecedented levels," Broderick stated in a press release.

Citizens buys natural gas at the market index, which can change hourly.

The price per therm rose to almost $1 last winter, "and we did not collect anything near that" from customers, he said.

Citizens paid $34 million more to its sole supplier, Enron, last winter, than it charged consumers.

Citizens' request came seven months after the division notified residential customers in Kingman that their bills would go up an average of $8 per month over a one-year period.

Kingman resident Sandy Engwis complained about the previous adjustment, and said she doubted the new adjustment would be in effect for only two years.

"I thought it was pretty ridiculous last year," she said.

"Every single month last year they upped the rates."

Engwis, who lives on North Baker Drive, said she thinks the newest adjustment, if approved by the ACC, would hurt elderly people and others on fixed incomes.

She said her latest bill, which covers June 18 to July 18, came to $10.50 for burning up 10 therms.

Customers also pay $5 in monthly meter charges and a sales tax of 7.85 percent on usage.

Citizens is trying to cushion the blow by urging consumers to weatherize their homes, conserve energy and sign up for budget billing, a program that averages a household's cost of natural gas for an entire year.

The gas division serves 19,594 customers in Mohave County, district manager Scott McKnight said.

Citizens, which serves four counties in northern Arizona and Santa Cruz County in the southern portion of the state, has a total of 125,000 customers statewide, Broderick said.

Broderick said he does not know what the average bill is in the Kingman area, adding that it can vary widely.

"People in the same house can use twice as much (gas) as another person in that building," he said.

Broderick said he expects bills in Mohave County to increase at the low end of 27 percent because the bills will be higher in colder areas.

A residential customer who uses 700 therms a year now pays $413 a year (excluding meter costs and taxes) with therms costing 59 cents.

At 78 cents per therm, the annual bill for therms alone would rise to $546.