LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Utility officials in Arkansas say winter rates have gone up because of an increase in costs to acquire natural gas.

CenterPoint Energy, Black Hills Energy and Arkansas Oklahoma Gas entered their new rates on Tuesday, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported. Customers will see rate increases ranging from almost 2 percent to nearly 9 percent compared to last November.

The rates took effect Wednesday and will be in place through March 31.

CenterPoint had the largest hike. A residential bill will increase 8.73 percent compared with November of last year, which includes an energy efficiency surcharge the utility’s commission approved, according to CenterPoint spokeswoman Alicia Dixon. CenterPoint is the largest gas utility in Arkansas with about 413,000 customers.

Black Hills Energy customers will see their monthly bills increase by 5.56 percent compared to last November, according to Rich Davis, manager of state government affairs. Davis notes that Black Hills, which has about 166,000 customers in northern Arkansas, acquired over the last year dry storage wells in the Arkansas River Valley near Ozark.

“This allows us to take gas off the interstate pipeline in the summertime when prices are the cheapest and put it into storage,” Davis said. “When the weather gets cold and our customers have (higher) demand, we’re drawing off that storage well instead of whatever the market price is. That’s good for the customer.”

Natural gas bills for Arkansas Oklahoma Gas’ roughly 45,000 customers in the Fort Smith area will see an increase of 1.97 percent in their monthly bills.

James Williams, an energy economist who owns WTRG Economics near Russellville, said the cost of natural gas has dropped about 10 percent since last year. But he estimates that the cost will “end up being a little higher than last year through the winter.”

The National Weather Service has projected that temperatures will be higher than average this winter, said John Lewis, senior forecaster at the service’s office in North Little Rock.


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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