Petition to Oregon Public Utility Commission re: NW Natural Rate Increase
Dear Oregon Public Utility Commission,

Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility (Oregon PSR) and the undersigned health advocates are writing to the Oregon Public Utility Commission (PUC) with regard to NW Natural’s ongoing rate case (UG 435). Guided by the values and expertise of medicine and public health, Oregon PSR works to protect human life from the gravest threats to health and survival. We are an organization of over 2,800 health professionals and public health advocates statewide working collaboratively with community partners to educate and advocate for societal and policy change that protects human health. Oregon PSR is writing to oppose NW Natural’s proposed rate increase of $81.8 million, or 11.8%.

Many Oregonians and NW Natural customers are experiencing financial hardship during these unprecedented times. The compounding impacts of fossil fuel-induced climate change, together with the COVID-19 pandemic, have placed an enormous burden on some households to pay for living expenses, including utility bills. According to new data provided by the Home Energy Affordability Gap (HEAG), an annual study that calculates the affordability of US energy bills, nearly 96,000 Oregon households live with income at or below 50% of the Federal Poverty Level and face a home energy burden of 23%. Low-income households are more vulnerable to the financial impacts of higher utility rates. This proposed rate increase would force these already energy-burdened households to spend a greater portion of their income on utility bills, leaving less income for other necessities such as food and health expenses.

This proposed rate increase of 11.8% will be the second time NW Natural has requested a rate increase during the COVID-19 pandemic. The request to increase rates is not the result of gas price fluctuations, but rather of wanting to increase rates to fund shareholder profits, executive bonuses, and pro-gas advertising. This unreasonable proposed rate increase serves absolutely no benefit to NW Natural customers and their energy needs.

NW Natural is also asking customers to cover an estimated 30% increase in advertising with this proposed rate increase. In the past year, NW Natural has promoted its business through misleading advertising, such as promoting renewable natural gas while selling a product that contains little or no renewable natural gas. Oregon PSR is particularly concerned with customers paying for advertising campaigns that are designed to promote both “natural gas” and “renewable natural gas” as clean and reliable energy sources in a concerted effort to increase NW Natural’s profits.

With parts of Antarctica more than 70 degrees warmer than average, now is not the time to promote natural gas. In the 2020 Biennial Report to the Oregon Legislature, the Oregon Global Warming Commission named natural gas as “the second largest source of emissions in Oregon from both electricity generation and direct use.” Natural gas is primarily composed of methane, a fossil fuel 80 times more potent at warming than carbon dioxide, making natural gas the opposite of a clean energy source. Combustion of fossil fuels, including natural gas, produces harmful air pollutants and particulate matter both indoors and outdoors. Studies have shown that gas stoves can produce elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas whose health effects in children may include increased risk of asthma, aggravated respiratory symptoms, and more detrimental health effects. Renewable natural gas is not a clean energy source either with respect to its carbon footprint. An article from the Sightline Institute explains that renewable natural gas is “chemically identical to conventional natural gas, which means that it, too, is largely composed of greenhouse gases.”

Last year’s winter storm in Texas, a state that largely depends on gas for power and heat generation, demonstrated that gas is not a reliable power source during extreme weather events. The main cause of the outages that left millions of Texans without electricity was due to the state’s natural gas providers. Incidents of extreme weather events are projected to increase as a result of climate change, something Oregon has already experienced with record-breaking heat waves and wildfires. A more climate-resilient Oregon is not dependent on natural gas and renewable natural gas. Customers should not be paying for executive salary bonuses, shareholder profits, and false advertisements that aim to increase profits. We hope that the Oregon Public Utility Commission will join us in working to protect the wellbeing of Oregon communities by opposing NW Natural’s proposed rate increase.

Thank you for your time and consideration,

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