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Customers of natural gas companies in Arkansas will see lower bills starting next month, the state's three gas utilities reported Friday in filings with the Arkansas Public Service Commission.

The decreases, primarily the result of falling natural gas prices, range from 19 percent to 23 percent compared with prices last winter.

The new rates take effect in November.

Bills for CenterPoint customers will be 19 percent lower than last year, said Alicia Dixon, spokesman for Houston-based CenterPoint Energy, which is Arkansas' largest natural gas utility, with about 403,000 customers.

A customer with a $100 bill last winter will see a bill of $81 this winter. Bills will vary depending on how much natural gas a customer uses.

The drop will be the biggest in CenterPoint's rates since 2009, when rates also fell 19 percent compared with the previous year, Dixon said.

"Lower natural gas prices benefit customers, particularly this time of year as we go into the season when people use more natural gas," Dixon said. "That's a good time to be passing on these savings."

The rates for CenterPoint and the two other natural gas utilities in the state -- SourceGas Arkansas and Arkansas Oklahoma Gas -- will remain in effect through March 31.

CenterPoint lowered its rates by 14 percent in April compared with a year earlier, the firm said.

Natural gas was trading at $2.326 per million British thermal units on the New York Mercantile Exchange on Friday. At this time last year, natural gas was trading at $3.557 per million Btu. A Btu is the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a pound of water by 1 degree Fahrenheit.

But the change in natural gas bills is based on more than the price of natural gas, Dixon said. The price of natural gas itself is passed on to customers with no markup, Dixon said.

Natural gas bills represent the total cost the utility incurs to take gas to customers, Dixon said.

"The price of natural gas is [the price] at the wellhead," she said. "But we have to get the natural gas to our system and to our customers' homes. All of that is involved in CenterPoint's cost of natural gas."

Investments that CenterPoint makes in its ongoing pipeline replacement program to maintain safety and reliability also are included in customers' bills, Walter Bryant, CenterPoint's vice president of gas operations in Arkansas, said in a statement.

Customers of Arkansas Oklahoma Gas will see a 21 percent decrease in their monthly bills this winter, according to John Bethel, executive director of the Public Service Commission. Arkansas Oklahoma Gas has about 45,000 customers in the Fort Smith area.

An Arkansas Oklahoma Gas customer who had a $100 bill last winter will have a bill of $79 this winter.

Customers of SourceGas Arkansas, which serves about 160,000 in Northwest Arkansas and the northern third of the state, can expect a 23 percent decrease in monthly bills, Bethel said.

A SourceGas customer with a $100 bill last year will have a bill of $77 this winter with the same amount of natural gas used.

In July, regional utility Black Hills Corp. announced it would buy SourceGas, which serves about 425,000 customers in Arkansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, for about $1.2 billion.

SourceGas Arkansas has offices in Blytheville, Fayetteville, Harrison, Ozark and Rogers. Formerly known as Arkansas Western Gas, the utility was purchased by SourceGas in 2008.

Business on 10/31/2015

Print Headline: Utilities in state to lower gas bills

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