NWGA Gets a Mention in the Medford Mail Tribune

NWGA Executive Director, Dan Kirschner, was on the road in Medford, OR yesterday talking natural gas at the Medford/Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.  Dan, along with Steve Harper, Director of Gas Supply for Avista, spoke on what Southern Oregon consumers have gained from the expansion in gas supply due to shale.

Dan and Steve’s comments were highlighted in an article today in the Medford Mail Tribune; here’s a quick quote from Dan, you can read the whole article at the link below.

 “When I started this job 12 years ago, natural gas was a scarce resource,” Kirschner said. “We didn’t know how we were going to find the resources we needed to meet the needs we knew we were going to have. Suddenly we started hearing this term ‘shale gas’ and we had a revolution. We’ve moved from scarcity to today abundance.”

To read the entire article at the Mail Tribune website, click here.

Washington State Regulators Approve Pipeline Replacement Plans

OLYMPIA, Wash. – State regulators have approved plans by the state’s four investor-owned natural gas companies to modernize and update portions of their pipeline delivery systems, replacing hundreds of miles of older pipes with state-of-the-art plastic pipe.

The Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (UTC) last year directed the companies to survey their pipeline infrastructure and propose plans to replace pipeline with “elevated risk.” As incentive for such pipeline replacement, the UTC policy permitted the gas companies to recover costs each year, rather than waiting for a future formal rate proceeding.

“Pipeline safety is an ongoing concern, and one should never be complacent,” said UTC Chairman Dave Danner. “But these plans demonstrate that Washington’s gas utilities are committed to the safety of our state’s pipeline infrastructure. Unlike many states, we have almost none of the more dangerous cast iron pipeline that has failed in other parts of the country, and utilities all have sound plans going forward to replace some plastic pipe that has shown a tendency toward minor cracking.”

The four natural gas companies are Avista, Puget Sound Energy (PSE), Cascade Natural Gas Corp. and Northwest Natural Gas Co. The utilities serve about 1.2 million natural gas customers in Washington.

In their plans, the companies identified the pipe targeted for replacement and described how the company assessed risk and established its replacement priorities. The plans also included a schedule for determining the location of elevated-risk pipe. The plans must be updated every two years.

• Avista’s system has some older polyethylene pipe installed prior to the 1970s. Over the next two years, Avista will replace 60 miles of pipe in unincorporated Spokane County. The company has already completed replacement of plastic pipe in Davenport and Odessa.

The Spokane-based company has about 3,400 miles of natural gas pipeline in the state, and serves some 150,000 natural gas customers, primarily in Eastern Washington.

• PSE also has some older polyethylene pipe in its service territory, 400 miles of which it will upgrade over the next 20 years. In the next two years, it will upgrade 60 miles of pipe located in scattered areas from Marysville to Olympia.

In addition, the company will replace the last remaining18 miles of bare steel pipe. The company has already replaced some 200 miles of such pipe in Seattle and Tacoma over the last decade.

PSE’s miles of natural-gas distribution system in Washington includes more than 12,000 miles of pipeline. The Bellevue-based company supplies natural gas to 783,659 customers in King, Kittitas, Lewis, Pierce, Snohomish and Thurston counties.

• Cascade Natural Gas will replace 62 miles of bare steel pipeline in Longview, Shelton and Anacortes, a third of it by 2015. The Kennewick-based company has almost 4,500 miles of natural gas pipelines in its distribution network in the state.

The company serves almost 200,000 customers in 65 communities throughout the state, including Bellingham, Bremerton, Mount Vernon, Aberdeen, Longview, Moses Lake, Kennewick, Walla Walla, Wenatchee and Yakima.

• Northwest Natural Gas has scheduled all bare steel pipe to be replaced by the end of next year. The Portland-based company has about 1,700 miles of natural gas pipeline in Washington, serving about 72,000 residential and commercial customers in Clark, Skamania and Klickitat counties.

Currently, each gas company regulated by the commission recovers costs through periodic general rate cases, which can take up to 11 months. The commission created a special cost-recovery mechanism for the gas companies to replace high-risk pipe while allowing a faster recovery of the investment in new pipe in customer rates.

In 2011, the federal government adopted a new program that required natural gas distribution companies to develop procedures to ensure the safety and reliability of the pipeline delivery system. The new regulations require operators to identify those conditions, characteristics or threats that cause leaks in order to make their systems more reliable and safe.

Established by the Legislature in 1955, the UTC’s Pipeline Safety Program regulates the safety practices of 31 pipeline companies and conducts safety inspections on more than 24,000 miles of natural gas and hazardous-liquid pipelines in Washington.

 

Avista Corp. to Acquire Alaska Energy and Resources Company

SPOKANE, WA- Avista Corp today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Alaska Energy and Resources Company (AERC), a privately-held company based in Juneau, Alaska. When the transaction is complete, AERC will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Avista Corp.

The purchase price at closing will be $170 million, less the assumption of debt and other customary closing adjustments. The transaction will be funded through the issuance of Avista common stock to the shareholders of AERC. The transaction is expected to close by July 1, 2014, following the receipt of necessary regulatory approvals and the satisfaction of other closing conditions. We expect that the addition of AERC to Avista Corp. will be slightly negative to earnings in 2014, and that it will contribute positively to earnings in 2015.

The primary subsidiary of AERC is Alaska Electric Light and Power Company (AEL&P), the oldest regulated electric utility in Alaska. In 2012, AEL&P had annual revenues of $42 million and a total rate base of $111 million. AEL&P, with 60 fulltime employees, serves approximately 15,900 customers in the city and borough of Juneau. The utility has a firm retail peak load of approximately 80 Megawatts (MW) and serves nearly 100 percent of its load with 102.7 MW of renewable hydroelectric generation capacity. The utility has 93.9 MW of diesel generating capacity to provide back-up service to all firm customers when necessary.

In addition to the regulated utility, AERC owns the AJT Mining subsidiary, which is an inactive mining company holding certain mining properties.

“AEL&P’s 120-year culture of service and community partnership is a great long-term fit with Avista Corp. We have found the company to have similar cultural values and focus on providing safe, reliable service to its customers that Avista has held dear for nearly 125 years. We look forward to working with AEL&P’S highly skilled and dedicated management and employees, and to being part of the Juneau community,” said Avista Corp. Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Scott Morris. “This agreement reflects Avista’s strategy to expand and diversify energy assets and deliver long-term value to the customers, communities and investors we serve.”

“AERC’s board of directors wanted to find a qualified utility buyer that would focus on providing reliable and competitively priced electric service, be a contributing member of the Juneau community and provide an environment for AEL&P employees to continue to realize job satisfaction and accomplishment,” said Tim McLeod, AEL&P president and general manager. “Avista, whose corporate culture is remarkably similar to that of AEL&P, satisfies these needs very well.”

NW Natural’s Gas Assistance Program Donates More Than $120,000 to Customers in Need

PORTLAND, Ore. — Northwest Natural Gas Company’s Gas Assistance Program (GAP) contributed more than $120,000 to more than 1,100 customers who needed help paying their gas heating bills.

This is the 31st year that NW Natural has run its low-income energy assistance program (GAP), donating a total of more than $5.4 million to people who need help over that period.

“We are very pleased that so many of our customers and community members stepped up to help their neighbors in need,” said Von Summers, community affairs manager.

For the 2012-2013 GAP year which ended October 31, half of the $120,000 donated came from NW Natural customers, while the other half came from NW Natural’s Corporate Philanthropy shareholder fund. Some of the money was given directly, while other donations came through a campaign with United Way and Oregon Food Bank, called “Help with the Basics.”

The gift from shareholders covers all administrative fees so every single penny donated by the public goes directly to the program. Donations are tax deductible and contributions for the 2013-2014 season – which starts today – can be made online at: https://www.nwnatural.com/AboutNWNatural/Community/CorporateContributions/NonProfitPartnerships.

Gassy Commuting in Portland

Is natural gas starting to find its way onto our roads as a vehicle fuel? There continue to be numerous reports that say the answer is yes but I hadn’t seen much in my neck of the woods…until last week.

Last week on my drive home into Portland, OR I had two NGV sightings in a mere two days, not bad! Pictures included below as proof:

Natural Gas Term of the Week: City Gate

What it means: A point or measuring station at which a gas distribution company receives gas from a pipeline company or transmission system.

See it in action: The city gate serves an important role in the natural gas distribution network, as the point where gas leaves the long distance transportation system for the lower pressure, more diffuse, systems of local distribution companies (LDCs) who deliver the gas directly to your home or business. Typically city gates have a predetermined required pressure range for the gas to be handed over to the local system. It is also where the odorant, mercaptan, is added to the gas, giving it that distinctive rotten egg smell.

Natural Gas Terms of the Week are posted each Monday, check back weekly to boost your natural gas IQ.

Follow the NWGA on Twitter: @Ben_at_NWGA

NW Natural President & CEO Gregg S. Kantor Elected 2014 AGA Chairman

Washington, D.C. – The American Gas Association (AGA) has announced that Gregg S. Kantor has been elected to serve as Chairman of the Board of Directors for 2014. Mr. Kantor is President and CEO of NW Natural, and was elected alongside several other officers during AGA’s Annual Corporate Meeting on Kiawah Island, S.C.

“With nearly two decades of leadership experience in the natural gas industry, Gregg’s commitment to his community and his background in environmental and urban planning make him uniquely suited to guide our organization as we continue to advance the role of natural gas in our nation’s clean and secure energy future,” said AGA President and CEO Dave McCurdy. “Gregg understands the need to engage all stakeholders and bring people together to foster a dialogue about how we can deliver solutions for our economy and our environment.”

NW Natural, headquartered in Portland, Oregon, provides natural gas service to approximately 689,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in Oregon and Southwest Washington. It is the largest independent natural gas utility in the Pacific Northwest.

Mr. Kantor became President and CEO of NW Natural in 2009, having joined the company in 1996 as Director of Public Affairs and Communications and serving subsequently as Senior Vice President of Public and Regulatory Affairs from 2003-2006, Executive Vice President from 2006-2007 and President and COO from 2007-2008.

Mr. Kantor has been a board member of the American Gas Association since 2009. He is also on the boards of the Oregon Business Council, Greater Portland Inc., the Portland Business Alliance, and co-chairs the Cradle to Career Council of All Hands Raised. Mr. Kantor holds a Bachelor of Arts in Geography and Environmental Studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara, and a master’s degree in Urban Planning from the University of Oregon.

AGA’s other board officers for 2014 will be: First Vice Chairman Terry D. McCallister, Chairman & CEO, WGL Holdings, Inc. (Washington, D.C.); Second Vice Chairman Ralph A. LaRossa, President & COO, Public Service Electric & Gas Co. (Newark, N.J.); Dave McCurdy, President & CEO, AGA, and Immediate Past Chairman Ronald W. Jibson, Chairman, President & CEO, Questar Corp. (Salt Lake City, Utah).

AGA Board of Directors Elected

The following executives will serve on the AGA Board of Directors in 2014. An asterisk (*) indicates newly elected directors. Their names, titles, companies and corporate headquarters follow (NWGA Members in bold):

William J. Akley                      SVP, Maintenance & Construction, National Grid (Brooklyn, NY)

Robert F. Beard                       President & CEO, UGI Utilities, Inc. (Reading, PA)

Lonnie E. Bellar                      VP, Gas Distribution, LG&E-KU, PPL Companies (Louisville, KY)

Doyle N. Beneby                     President & CEO, CPS Energy (San Antonio, TX)

Lawrence T. Borgard               President & COO, Utilities, Integrys Energy Group (Green Bay, WI)

Carl L. Chapman                     Chairman, President & CEO, Vectren Corp. (Evansville, IN)

Kim R. Cocklin                        President & CEO, Atmos Energy Corp. (Dallas, TX)

Kenneth W. DeFontes, Jr.        President & CEO, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. (Baltimore, MD)

Laurence M. Downes               Chairman & CEO, New Jersey Resources (Wall, NJ)

David R. Emery                       Chairman, President & CEO, Black Hills Corp. (Rapid City, SD)

William J. Fehrman                  President & CEO, MidAmerican Energy Co. (Des Moines, IA)

Kimberly J. Harris                   President & CEO, Puget Sound Energy (Bellevue, WA)

Glenn R. Jennings                    Chairman, President & CEO, Delta Natural Gas Co., Inc. (Winchester, KY)

Christopher P. Johns                President, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (San Francisco, CA)

Kent T. Larson                         SVP, Operations, Xcel Energy Inc. (Minneapolis, MN)

James P. Laurito                      President, Central Hudson Gas & Electric Corp. (Poughkeepsie, NY)*

John McAvoy                          President & CEO (effective 1/1/2014), Consolidated Edison, Inc. (New York, NY)*

David M. McClanahan             President & CEO, CenterPoint Energy (Houston, TX)

James T. McManus, II             Chairman & CEO, Energen Corp. (Birmingham, AL)

Michael P. McMasters              President & CEO, Chesapeake Utilities Corp. (Dover, DE)*

Scott Miller                              Vice President & General Manager, Dominion East Ohio (Cleveland, OH)

K. Frank Morehouse                President & CEO, MDU Utilities Group (Bismarck, ND)

Scott L. Morris                         Chairman, President & CEO, Avista Corp. (Spokane, WA)

Jerry Norcia                             President & COO, DTE Gas Co., DTE Energy (Detroit, MI)

Pierce H. Norton, II                 EVP, Commercial, ONEOK, Inc. (Tulsa, OK)

Morgan K. O’Brien                  President & CEO, Peoples Natural Gas Co. LLC (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ian Robertson                          CEO, Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp. (Oakville, ON)*

John G. Russell                        President & CEO, CMS Energy Corp. (Jackson, MI)

Jeffrey W. Shaw                      President & CEO, Southwest Gas Corp. (Las Vegas, NV)

Suzanne Sitherwood                President & CEO, The Laclede Group, Inc. (St. Louis, MO)

Robert C. Skaggs, Jr.                President & CEO, NiSource Inc. (Merrillville, IN)

Thomas E. Skains                    Chairman, President & CEO, Piedmont Natural Gas Co., Inc. (Charlotte, NC)

Anne Shen Smith                     Chairman & CEO, Southern California Gas Co. (Los Angeles, CA)

David F. Smith                         Executive Chairman, National Fuel Gas Co. (Williamsville, NY)

John W. Somerhalder II           Chairman, President & CEO, AGL Resources (Atlanta, GA)

James P. Torgerson                  President & CEO, UIL Holdings (New Haven, CT)

Non-voting Advisory Directors:

Julie A. Dill                             President & CEO, Spectra Energy Partners and Group Vice President, Strategy Spectra Energy (Houston, TX)

Gordon L. Gillette                    President, Tampa Electric Co. & Peoples Gas (Tampa, FL)

Patricia L. Kampling                Chairman, President & CEO, Alliant Energy (Madison, WI)

Rodney O. Powell                    President & COO, Yankee Gas (Berlin, CT)

Craig E. White                         President & CEO, Philadelphia Gas Works (Philadelphia, PA)

Natural Gas Term of the Week: Direct Connect Customers

What it means: Usually very large industrial customers connected directly to an interstate pipeline system. These customers purchase their own gas supplies and contract directly from the pipeline for transportation, thereby bypassing the bundled services typically offered by local distribution companies.

See it in action: What do you do if you want to use natural gas for a large industrial application but you’re miles away from the nearest local distribution company (LDC)? If you’re lucky you can call up one of the pipelines serving the region and buy gas directly from them.

Have a look at our map of the region’s natural gas system to get an idea of where direct connect customers could be located. As you can see LDCs focus on more populous areas, it’s not cost effective to build distribution lines to homes located many miles apart.  Industrial users can consume significant amounts of gas so even if they are located far from the nearest LDC it may make financial sense for them to work directly with a pipeline to secure a clean and cost effective way to power their industrial application.

Natural Gas Terms of the Week are posted each Monday, check back weekly to boost your natural gas IQ.

Follow the NWGA on Twitter: @Ben_at_NWGA

MDU Resources’ Utility Companies Recognized in J.D. Power Study

BISMARCK, N.D. — Two utility subsidiaries of MDU Resources Group Inc. have been recognized for highest customer satisfaction. Intermountain Gas Company and Cascade Natural Gas Corporation received the highest ranking in satisfaction among residential natural gas customers in the midsize natural gas utilities segment of the West Region in a tie, according to a national study.

The 2013 J.D. Power Gas Utility Residential Customers Satisfaction StudySM was released last week. Intermountain and Cascade earned a score of 655, tied for highest among midsize natural gas utilities in the West Region. This is the fourth straight year Intermountain has earned the top spot.

“There can be no higher compliment than hearing from your own customers that they think you are the best,” said David L. Goodin, president and CEO of MDU Resources.

“This is an outstanding recognition for our employees who make it their highest priority every day to provide safe and reliable natural gas service,” said K. Frank Morehouse, president and CEO of Intermountain and Cascade. “Our employees take great pride in serving our more than 264,000 Cascade customers in Washington and Oregon, and our more than 312,000 Intermountain customers in southern Idaho.”

In its 12th year, the study surveys customer satisfaction across a number of factors, including billing and payment, price, corporate citizenship, communications, field service and customer service.

Low Natural Gas Prices Helping to Keep Customers Connected

Washington, D.C. – In cities and towns across the country, Americans are saving money and enjoying a better quality of life thanks to the nation’s abundant supply of clean, domestic natural gas delivered by local natural gas utilities. This year, according to a survey of American Gas Association member companies, the number of customers disconnected from their utility service fell by more than eight percent, indicating that the low price of natural gas is allowing more people to access the energy they need. Additionally, the total amount owed by natural gas customers fell by nearly 15 percent.

“Natural gas plays a key role in rebuilding our nation’s economy by saving money for homes and businesses and keeping our most vulnerable citizens from having to go without essential energy,” said AGA President and CEO Dave McCurdy. “The low price of natural gas also creates jobs, is boosting the manufacturing and chemical industries and is a driver for infrastructure expansion while offering tremendous value to the 177 million Americans who use it every day.”

Prices for natural gas this winter were nearly two percent lower compared to the year before, according to the Energy Information Administration, but the improvement in disconnect rates can also be attributed to the combination of an improving economy and assistance from federal, state and utility energy efficiency programs that all helped more households stay current on their bills.

Low domestic prices of natural gas have led to savings of almost $35 billion for residential natural gas customers over the past three years. Households that use natural gas appliances for heating, water heating, cooking and clothes drying spend an average of $654 less per year than homes using electricity for those applications. These savings are achieved not just through the comparatively low price point of natural gas, but also due to the efficiency of the delivery network operated by natural gas utilities. The direct use of natural gas maintains about 92 percent of its usable energy from production to the customer.

Natural gas utilities are committed to helping customers achieve even greater energy savings by investing heavily in energy efficiency programs. In 2011, natural gas utilities created total savings of more than $300 million for customers – about $107 per household – and offset 6.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.

Still, the need for fuel assistance in this country remains great, and many customers struggle to make ends meet. The latest U.S. Census data shows that the poverty rate in 2012 was 15 percent – meaning about 46.5 million Americans lived in poverty. While overall disconnects are down, the number of customers who are at least 30 days late in paying their utility bills stayed stable compared to last year and accounts for more than 18 percent of customers. The Low Income Heating and Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is an essential federal program that can help ensure no Americans go without heat in winter or air conditioning in summer. To date, the Senate Appropriations Committee has approved $3.61 billion for LIHEAP in FY 2014. The House Appropriations Committee, however, has yet to set FY 2014 LIHEAP funding levels. While recognizing that Congress faces difficult decisions given the current fiscal climate, AGA continues to call for action ensuring responsible funding levels for LIHEAP. Greater certainty for overall LIHEAP funding and distribution timing is crucial to ensuring that states can plan budgets and receive funds necessary to provide assistance to Americans in need.