Northwest Natural Gas Company 10-K 2009
Documents found in this filing:
SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION
Washington, D. C. 20549
For the fiscal year ended December 31, 2008
For the transition period from to
Commission file number 1-15973
NORTHWEST NATURAL GAS COMPANY
(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)
220 N.W. Second Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97209
(Address of principal executive offices) (Zip Code)
Registrants telephone number, including area code: (503) 226-4211
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(b) of the Act:
Securities registered pursuant to Section 12(g) of the Act: None.
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is a well-known seasoned issuer, as defined in Rule 405 of the Securities Act. Yes [ ] No [ X ]
Indicate by check mark if the registrant is not required to file reports pursuant to Section 13 or Section 15(d) of the Act. [ ]
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant (1) has filed all reports required to be filed by Section 13 or 15(d) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the preceding 12 months (or for such shorter period that the registrant was required to file such reports), and (2) has been subject to such filing requirements for the past 90 days.
Yes [ X ] No [ ]
Indicate by check mark if disclosure of delinquent filers pursuant to Item 405 of Regulation S-K is not contained herein, and will not be contained, to the best of registrants knowledge, in definitive proxy or information statements incorporated by reference in Part III of this Form 10-K or any amendment to this Form 10-K. [ ]
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, or a smaller reporting company. See definitions of accelerated filer, large accelerated filer and smaller reporting company in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act. (Check one):
Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a shell company (as defined in Rule 12b-2 of the Exchange Act). Yes [ ] No [ X ]
As of June 30, 2008, the registrant had 26,435,373 shares of its Common Stock outstanding. The aggregate market value of these shares of Common Stock (based upon the closing price of these shares on the New York Stock Exchange on that date) held by non-affiliates was $1,211,499,354.
At February 23, 2009, 26,501,188 shares of the registrants Common Stock (the only class of Common Stock) were outstanding.
DOCUMENTS INCORPORATED BY REFERENCE
Portions of the Proxy Statement of the registrants, to be filed in connection with the 2009 Annual Meeting of Shareholders, are incorporated by reference in Part III.
Annual Report to Securities and Exchange Commission
on Form 10-K
For the Fiscal Year Ended December 31, 2008
Table of Contents
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
Statements and information included in this report that are not purely historical are forward-looking statements within the safe harbor provisions and meaning of Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (Exchange Act). Forward-looking statements include, but are not limited to, statements concerning plans, objectives, goals, strategies, future events or performance, trends, cyclicality, growth, development of projects, exploration of new gas supplies, estimated expenditures, costs of compliance, potential efficiencies, impacts of new laws and regulations, projected obligations under retirement plans, adequacy of and shift in mix of gas supplies, and adequacy of regulatory deferrals. Such statements are expressed in good faith and we believe have a reasonable basis; however, each forward-looking statement involves uncertainties and is qualified in its entirety by reference to the following important factors, among others, that could cause our actual results to differ materially from those projected, including:
These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties. We may make other forward-looking statements from time to time, including statements in press releases and public conference calls and webcasts. All forward-looking statements made by us are based on information available to us at the time the statements are made and speak only as of the date on which such statement is made. We undertake no obligation to update any forward-looking statement to reflect events or circumstances after the date on which such statement is made or to reflect the occurrence of unanticipated events. New factors emerge from time to time and it is not possible for us to predict all such factors, nor can we assess the impact of each such factor or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statement. Some of these risks and uncertainties are discussed at Item 1A., Risk Factors of Part I and Item 7. and Item 7A., Managements Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations and Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market Risk, respectively, of Part II of this report.
NORTHWEST NATURAL GAS COMPANY
Northwest Natural Gas Company (NW Natural) was incorporated under the laws of Oregon in 1910. Our company and its predecessors have supplied gas service to the public since 1859. We have been doing business as NW Natural since September 1997. We maintain operations in Oregon, Washington and California and conduct business through NW Natural, two wholly-owned subsidiaries and a joint venture. A reference to NW Natural (we, us or our) in this report means NW Natural and it subsidiaries and joint venture unless otherwise noted.
We operate in two primary reportable business segments, Local Gas Distribution and Gas Storage. We also have other investments and business activities not specifically related to one of these two reporting segments which we aggregate and report as Other.
Local Gas Distribution
We are principally engaged in the distribution of natural gas in Oregon and southwest Washington. We refer to this business segment as our local gas distribution or utility. Local gas distribution involves building and maintaining a safe and reliable pipeline distribution system, purchasing gas from producers and marketers, contracting for the transportation of gas over pipelines from the supply basins to our service territory, and reselling the gas to customers subject to rates and terms approved by the Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) or by the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC). Gas distribution also includes transporting gas owned by large customers from the interstate pipeline connection, or city gate, to the customers facilities for a fee, also approved by the OPUC or WUTC. Approximately 96 percent of our consolidated assets and 85 percent of our consolidated net income in 2008 were related to the local gas distribution segment. The OPUC has allocated to us as our exclusive service area a major portion of western Oregon, including the Portland metropolitan area, most of the Willamette Valley and the coastal area from Astoria to Coos Bay. We also hold certificates from the WUTC granting us exclusive rights to serve portions of three southwest Washington counties bordering the Columbia River. We provide gas service in 124 cities and neighboring communities in 15 Oregon counties, as well as in 14 cities and neighboring communities in three Washington counties. The city of Portland is the principal retail and manufacturing center in the Columbia River Basin, and is a major port for trade with Asia.
At year-end 2008, we had approximately 662,000 total customers, consisting of 599,000 residential, 62,000 commercial and 1,000 industrial sales and transportation customers. Approximately 90 percent of our customers are located in Oregon and 10 percent are in Washington. Industries we serve include: pulp, paper and other forest products; the manufacture of electronic, electrochemical and electrometallurgical products; the processing of farm and food products; the production of various mineral products; metal fabrication and casting; the production of machine tools, machinery and textiles; the manufacture of asphalt, concrete and rubber; printing and publishing; nurseries; government and educational institutions; and electric generation. No individual customer or industry accounts for a significant portion of our revenues.
Utility Gas Supply, Storage and Transportation Capacity
We meet the expected needs of our core utility customers through natural gas purchases from a variety of suppliers. Our supply and capacity plan is based on forecasted customer requirements and takes into account estimated load growth by type of customer, attrition, conservation, distribution system constraints, interstate pipeline capacity and contractual limitations and the forecasted movement of large customers between sales service and transportation-only service. We perform sensitivity analyses based on factors such as weather variations and price elasticity effects. We have a diverse portfolio of short-, medium- and long-term firm gas supply contracts that we supplement during periods of peak demand with gas from storage facilities either owned by or contractually committed to us.
Gas Acquisition Strategy
Our goals in purchasing gas for our core utility market are:
To achieve our gas acquisition strategy, we employ a gas purchasing strategy that emphasizes a diversity of supply, liquidity, price risk management, asset optimization and regulatory alignment as described below.
Diversity of supply. There are three primary means by which we diversify our gas supply acquisitions: regional supply basins; contract types; and contract durations.
Our utility obtains its gas supplies from three key supply basins. They are the Alberta and British Columbia regions in Canada, and the Rocky Mountain region in the United States. We believe that gas supplies available in the western United States and Canada are adequate to serve our core utility requirements for the foreseeable future, but we are considering shifting more of our supply mix to the U.S. Rocky Mountains based on projections of declining gas imports from western Canada and increased gas production in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. We believe that the cost of natural gas coming from these regions will continue to track market prices, but there may be price discounts on supplies from the U.S. Rocky Mountains in the near term due to of the limited amount of transmission capacity to transport that supply to existing markets. Several projects have been proposed recently to increase pipeline capacity out of the U.S. Rocky Mountain region. In addition, we also believe the potential development of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal would benefit the Pacific Northwest. If constructed, an LNG import terminal would introduce a new source of gas supply to our utility customers and the region, thereby increasing the diversity of available sources of energy and increasing the overall supply of natural gas available to meet future demand growth in the region.
We typically enter into gas purchase contracts for:
Other less frequent types of contracts include non-heating season baseload contracts, non-heating season contracts where the supplier has the option to supply gas to us on a daily basis, and seasonal exchange purchase and sale contracts. We try to maintain a diversified portfolio of purchase arrangements.
We also use a variety of multi-year contract durations to avoid having to re-contract a significant portion of our supplies every year. See Core Utility Market Basic Supply, below.
Trading Points. We purchase our gas supplies at liquid trading points to facilitate competition and price transparency. These trading points include the NOVA Inventory Transfer (NIT) point in Alberta (also referred to as AECO), Huntingdon/Sumas and Station 2 in British Columbia, and various receipt points in the U.S. Rocky Mountains.
Price risk management. There are four general methods that we currently use for managing gas commodity price risk:
Asset optimization. We use our gas supply, storage and transportation flexibility to capture opportunities that emerge during the course of the year for gas purchases, sales, exchanges or other means to manage net gas costs. In particular, our Mist underground storage facility provides flexibility in this regard. In addition, in an effort to maximize the value of our gas storage and pipeline capacity, we contract with an independent energy marketing company that optimizes our unused capacity when those assets are not serving the needs of our core utility customers. This asset optimization service performed by the independent energy marketing company produces cost savings that are refunded to core utility customers, as well as generates incremental revenues which are included in our gas storage business segment. See Note 2.
Regulatory alignment. Mechanisms for gas cost recovery are designed to be fair, and balance the interests of customers and shareholders. In general, utility rates are designed to recover the cost of, but not earn a return on, the gas commodity purchased, and we attempt to minimize risks associated with cost recovery through:
Cost of Gas
The cost of gas to supply our core utility customers primarily consists of the purchase price paid to suppliers, charges paid to pipeline companies to store and transport the gas to our distribution system and gains or losses related to commodity hedge contracts entered into in connection with the purchase of gas for core utility customers.
Supply cost. Volatility in natural gas commodity prices has increased dramatically over the last several years primarily due to shifts in the balance of supply and demand, which has been affected by the level of gas imports, regional accessibility to gas supplies, supply disruptions, changes in the global energy markets, availability of pipeline capacity to transport natural gas from region to region, and changes in general economic conditions. We are in a favorable position with respect to gas production because of the proximity of our service territory to supply basins in western Canada and the U.S. Rocky Mountains, where some growth in gas production is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.
Transportation cost. Pipeline transportation rates charged by our pipeline suppliers had been relatively stable until recently. In 2006, two of the five major pipelines used by NW Natural filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for significant rate increases which were implemented in 2007. Pipeline transportation rate increases are generally passed on to our customers through state-approved annual PGA mechanisms.
Gas price hedging. We seek to mitigate the effects of higher gas commodity prices and price volatility on core utility customers by using our underground storage facilities strategically and by entering into financial hedge contracts to fix or limit the price of gas commodity purchases.
Managing the Cost of Gas
We manage natural gas commodity price risk through active physical and financial hedging programs Our financial hedge contracts make up a majority of our commodity price hedging activity, and these contracts are with a variety of investment-grade credit counterparties, typically with credit ratings of AA- or higher. See Part II, Item 7A., Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures About Market RiskCredit RiskCredit exposure to financial derivative counterparties. Under our financial hedge program, we enter into commodity swaps, puts, calls and collars anywhere from one month up to five years into the future. Realized gains or losses from financial commodity hedge contracts are treated as reductions or increases to the cost of gas.
In addition to the prices that are hedged through financial contracts, we also use gas storage as a physical hedge. We purchase and inject about 15 to 20 percent of our annual gas supply requirements into storage during the summer when demand and gas prices are generally lower. The gas is stored for withdrawal during the winter months in five different storage facilities. We own and operate three of
these storage facilities located within our service territory, which eliminates the need for additional upstream pipeline capacity and provides significant cost savings. The other two storage facilities are owned and operated by our primary pipeline supplier.
The intended effect of our physical and financial hedging programs are to manage the price exposure for a majority of our gas supply portfolio for the following gas contract year, with prices hedged for approximately 60 percent of year round supplies and 80 percent or more of our expected winter-heating season supplies based on forecasted customer requirements.
Source of SupplyDesign Year and Design Day Sendout
The effectiveness of our gas supply program ultimately rests on whether we provide reliable service at a reasonable cost to our core utility customers. For this purpose, we develop a composite design year that is based on the coldest weather experienced over the last 20 years in our service territory. We start with the coldest heating season during the last 20 years and then modify it to include the coldest single weather day over that same 20-year period. This coldest design day is the maximum anticipated demand on the natural gas distribution system during a 24-hour period, which currently assumes weather at an average temperature of 12 degrees Fahrenheit. We also assume that all usage by interruptible customers will be curtailed on the design day. Our projected sources of delivery for design day firm utility customer sendout total approximately 9 million therms. We are currently capable of meeting 63 percent of our firm customer design day requirements with storage and peaking supply sources located within or adjacent to our service territory. Optimal utilization of storage and peaking facilities on our design day reduces the cost and dependency on firm interstate pipeline transportation. On January 5, 2004, we experienced our current-record firm customer sendout of 7.2 million therms, and a total sendout of 8.9 million therms, on a day that was approximately 9 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the design day temperature. That January 2004 cold weather event lasted about 10 days, and the actual firm customer sendout each day provided data indicating that load forecasting models required very little re-calibration. Similar cold temperatures experienced in December 2008 produced very high sendout days but they were still about 20 percent below our 2004 record. Accordingly, we believe that our supplies would be sufficient to meet firm customer demand if we were to experience design day conditions. We will continue to evaluate and update our forecasts of design day requirements in connection with our integrated resource plan (IRP) process (see Integrated Resource Plan, below).
The following table shows the sources of supply that are projected to be used to satisfy the design day sendout for the 2008-2009 winter heating season:
We believe the combination of the natural gas supply purchases under contract, our peaking supplies and the transportation capacity held under contract on the interstate pipelines sufficiently satisfies the needs of existing customers and positions the utility to meet future requirements.
Core Utility Market Basic Supply
We purchase gas for our core utility customers from a variety of suppliers located in western Canada and the U.S. Rocky Mountain area. Currently, about 6070 percent of our supply comes from Canada, with the balance coming primarily from the U.S. Rocky Mountain region, but we are considering shifting more of our supply mix to the U.S. Rocky Mountains based on projections of declining gas imports from western Canada and increased gas production in the U.S. Rocky Mountains. At January 1, 2009, we had 28 firm contracts with 15 suppliers and remaining terms ranging from five months to six years, which provide for a maximum of 2.2 million therms of firm gas per day during the peak winter heating season and 1.1 million therms per day during the entire year. These contracts have a variety of pricing structures and purchase obligations. During 2008, we purchased 831 million therms of gas under the following contract durations:
We regularly renew or replace our gas supply contracts with new agreements with a variety of existing and new suppliers. Aside from the optimization of our core utility gas supplies by the independent energy marketing company (see Gas Acquisition StrategyAsset optimization, above), our daily contract requirements are provided by multiple sources with no more than three suppliers providing between 10 and 15 percent of our average daily contract volumes. Firm year-round supply contracts have remaining terms ranging from one to six years. All term gas supply contracts use price formulas tied to monthly index prices. We hedge a majority of these contracts each year using financial instruments as part of our gas purchasing strategy (see Managing the Cost of Gas, above).
In addition to the year-round contracts, we continue to contract in advance for firm gas supplies to be delivered only during the winter heating season primarily under short-term contracts. During 2008, new short-term purchase agreements were entered into with nine suppliers. These agreements have a variety of pricing structures and provide for a total of up to 1.5 million therms per day during the 2008-2009 heating season. We intend to enter into new purchase agreements in 2009 for equivalent volumes of gas with existing or new suppliers, as needed, to replace contracts that will expire during 2009.
We also buy gas on the spot market as needed to meet core utility customer demand. We have flexibility under the terms of some of our firm supply contracts enabling us to purchase spot gas in lieu of firm contract volumes, thereby allowing us to take advantage of favorable pricing on the spot market from time to time.
We continue to purchase a small amount of gas from a non-affiliated producer in the Mist gas field in Oregon. The production area is situated near our underground gas storage facility. Current production is approximately 19,000 therms per day from about 17 wells, supplying less than 1 percent of our total annual purchase requirements. Production from these wells varies as existing wells are depleted and new wells are drilled.
Core Utility Market Peaking Supply and Storage
We supplement our firm gas supplies with gas from storage facilities we own or that are contractually committed to us. Gas is generally purchased and stored during periods of low demand for use at a later time during periods of peak demand. In addition to enabling us to meet our peak demand, these facilities make it possible to lower the annual average cost of gas by allowing us to minimize our pipeline transportation contract demand costs and to purchase gas for storage during the summer months when gas prices are generally lower.
Underground storage. We provide daily and seasonal peaking gas supplies to our Oregon core utility customers from our underground gas storage facility in the Mist gas storage field. Including the latest expansions in 2008, this facility has a maximum daily deliverability of 5.1 million therms and a total working gas capacity of about 16 Bcf. In 2004, we completed our South Mist pipeline extension project, which is a utility transmission pipeline from our Mist gas storage field to growing portions of our distribution service area. In May 2008, a total of 100,000 therms per day of Mist storage capacity that had previously been available for storage services was recalled and committed to use for core utility customers. This is the first recalled capacity since 2004. Under our regulatory agreement with the OPUC, storage capacity that has been developed and used by the gas storage segment can be recalled as needed and transferred to utility rate base at our original cost less accumulated depreciation, with a corresponding rate increase to customers to reflect the cost of service. The core utility market now has 2.4 million therms per day of deliverability and approximately 9 Bcf of working gas committed from the Mist storage facility. As storage capacity is recalled to serve core utility customers, we may be able to develop new storage capacity to replace it and continue serving interstate customers.
We also have contracts with The Williams Companies Northwest Pipeline (Northwest Pipeline) for firm gas storage services from an underground storage facility at Jackson Prairie near Chehalis, Washington, and an LNG facility at Plymouth, Washington. Together, these two facilities provide us with daily firm deliverability of about 1.1 million therms and total seasonal capacity of about 16 million therms. Separate contracts with Northwest Pipeline provide for the transportation of these storage supplies to our service territory. All of these contracts have reached the end of their primary terms, but we have exercised our renewal rights that allow for annual extensions at our option.
Company-owned LNG. We own and operate two LNG storage facilities in our Oregon service territory that liquefy gas for storage during the summer months so that it is available for withdrawal during the peak winter heating season. These two facilities provide a maximum combined daily deliverability of 1.8 million therms and a total seasonal capacity of 17 million therms.
Recallable capacity from transportation customers. We also have contracts with one electric generator and two industrial customers that together provide an additional 52,000 therms per day of year-round upstream capacity, plus 390,000 therms per day of recallable capacity and supply. The contracts for 52,000 therms per day of year-round capacity expire in July 2009. Two of the three recallable capacity/supply contracts are renewed on a year-to-year basis, while the third expires in 2010 at which time we would expect to renew annually.
Single transportation pipeline. Our distribution system is directly connected to a single interstate pipeline, Northwest Pipeline. Although we are dependent on a single pipeline, the pipelines
gas flows are bi-directional and it transports gas into the Portland metropolitan market from two directions: (1) the north, which brings supplies from British Columbia and Alberta supply basins; and (2) the east, which brings supplies from Alberta as well as the U.S. Rocky Mountain supply basins. In 2003 a federal order requiring Northwest Pipeline to replace its 26-inch mainline from the Canadian border to our service territory underscored the need for pipeline transportation diversity. That replacement project was completed by Northwest Pipeline in November 2006. We are pursuing options to further diversify our pipeline transportation paths. Specifically, we are currently developing plans to build a pipeline project (Palomar) that would connect TransCanada Pipelines Limiteds (TransCanada) Gas Transmission Northwest (GTN) interstate transmission line to our gas distribution system. In August 2007, we entered into an agreement with GTN for the purpose of jointly developing, owning and operating this proposed pipeline. Additionally, we entered into precedent agreements to become a shipper on the Palomar Pipeline. If constructed, this pipeline would provide an alternate transportation path for gas purchases from Alberta that currently move through the Northwest Pipeline system (See Part II, Item 7., 2009 Outlook).
Rates. FERC establishes rates for interstate pipeline transportation service under long-term transportation agreements within the U.S., and Canadian federal or provincial authorities establish rates for service under agreements with the Canadian pipelines over which we ship gas.
Transportation agreements. The largest of our transportation agreements with Northwest Pipeline extends through September 2013 and provides for firm transportation capacity of up to 2.1 million therms per day. This agreement provides access to natural gas supplies in British Columbia and the U.S. Rocky Mountains.
Our second largest transportation agreement with Northwest Pipeline extends through November 2011. It provides up to 1.0 million therms per day of firm transportation capacity from the point of interconnection of the Northwest Pipeline and GTN systems in eastern Oregon to our service territory. GTNs pipeline runs from the U.S./Canadian border through northern Idaho, southeastern Washington and central Oregon to the California/Oregon border. We have firm long-term capacity on GTNs pipeline and two upstream pipelines in Canada, which match the amount of Northwest Pipeline capacity northward into Alberta, Canada.
We also have an agreement with Northwest Pipeline that previously extended into 2009 for approximately 350,000 therms per day of firm transportation capacity from the U.S. Rocky Mountain region. In February 2008, we extended the term of this contract through 2044. Also in February 2008, we executed an agreement with a third party to take assignment of their firm gas supply transportation contract starting no earlier than 2012 nor later than 2017, with the term extending through 2046. This contract consists of 120,000 therms per day on Northwest Pipeline from the U.S. Rocky Mountain region.
In addition, we have firm long-term pipeline transportation contracts with two other major transporters located in Canada. One contract extends through October 2014 and provides approximately 600,000 therms per day of firm gas transportation from Station 2 in northern British Columbia to the Huntingdon/Sumas connection with Northwest Pipeline at the U.S./Canadian border. Another contract extends through October 2020 and provides approximately 470,000 therms per day of firm gas transportation from southeastern British Columbia to the same Huntingdon/Sumas connection with Northwest Pipeline. Our capacity on this second contract is matched with companion contracts for pipeline capacity on the TransCanada BC system and NOVA system in British Columbia and Alberta, allowing purchases to be made from the gas fields of Alberta, Canada.
Integrated Resource Plan
The OPUC and WUTC have implemented IRP processes under which utilities develop plans defining alternative growth scenarios and resource acquisition strategies. Elements of these plans include:
We filed our 2008 IRP with the OPUC and an update to our 2007 IRP with the WUTC in April 2008. In October 2008, we received notification from the WUTC that our 2007 IRP met the requirements of the Washington Administrative Code. In January 2009, the OPUC acknowledged our 2008 IRP. Although OPUC acknowledgment of the IRP does not constitute ratemaking approval of any specific resource acquisition strategy or expenditure, the OPUC generally indicates that it would give considerable weight in prudency reviews to utility actions that are consistent with acknowledged plans. The WUTC has indicated that the IRP process is one factor it will consider in a prudency review.
Competition and Marketing
Competition with Other Energy Products
We have no direct competition in our service area from other natural gas distributors. However, for residential customers, we compete primarily with electricity, fuel oil and propane. We also compete with electricity and fuel oil for commercial applications. In the industrial market, we compete with all forms of energy, including competition from third-party sellers of natural gas commodity. Competition among gas suppliers is based on price, perceived environmental impact, sustainability, reliability, efficiency and performance, market conditions, technology and legislative policy. Whether or not we provide the gas supplies to serve our transportation-eligible customers, our net margins are not materially affected because we generally do not make any margin on the commodity sales to our utility customers (see Industrial Markets, below).
Residential and Commercial Markets
The relatively low market saturation of natural gas in residential single-family dwellings in our service territory, estimated at approximately 50 percent, and our operating convenience and environmental advantage over fuel oil, provides the potential for continuing growth from residential and commercial conversions. In 2008, 9,609 net new residential customers were added, primarily from single- and multi-family new construction, but also from the conversion of existing homes from oil, electric or propane appliances to natural gas. The net increase of all new customers added in 2008 was 10,329. This represents a 12-month growth rate of 1.6 percent, which is above the national average for local gas distribution companies as reported by the American Gas Association. On an annual basis, residential and commercial customers typically account for about 55 percent of our utilitys total volumes delivered and about 85 percent of gross operating revenues, while industrial customers account for about 45 percent of volumes and about 13 percent of gross revenues. The remaining 2% of gross operating revenues is derived from miscellaneous services and other regulatory charges.
Competition to serve the industrial and large commercial market in the Pacific Northwest has been relatively unchanged since the early 1990s in terms of numbers and types of competitors. Competitors consist of gas marketers, oil/propane sellers and electric utilities.
Industrial customers we serve include: pulp, paper and other forest products; the manufacture of electronic, electrochemical and electrometallurgical products; the processing of farm and food products; the production of various mineral products; metal fabrication and casting; the production of machine tools, machinery and textiles; the manufacture of asphalt, concrete and rubber; printing and publishing; nurseries; government and educational institutions; and electric generation. No individual customer or industry group accounts for a significant portion of our revenues or margins.
The OPUC and WUTC have approved transportation tariffs under which we may contract with customers to deliver customer-owned gas. Transportation tariffs available to industrial customers are priced at our sales service rate less the commodity cost included in that rate. Therefore, we are unaffected financially if industrial customers buy commodity supplies directly from marketers rather than purchasing gas from us, as long as they remain on a tariff or contract with the same quality of service. We do not generally make any margin on the sale of the gas commodity. However, industrial customers may select between firm and interruptible service, among other levels of service, and these choices can positively or negatively affect margin. The relative level and volatility of prices in the natural gas commodity markets, along with the availability of pipeline capacity to ship customer-owned gas, are among the primary factors that have caused some industrial customers to alternate between sales and transportation service or between higher and lower levels of service.
We redesigned our industrial rates in Oregon and Washington as part of our general rate cases in 2003 and 2004, respectively, in order to better reflect relative costs of service and to become more competitive in the industrial market. In August 2006, the OPUC and WUTC approved tariff changes to the service options for our industrial accounts. The changes set out additional parameters that give us more certainty in the level of gas supplies we will need to purchase in order to serve this customer group. The parameters include an annual election cycle period, special pricing provisions for out-of-cycle changes and the requirement that customers on our annual weighted average cost of gas tariff complete the agreed upon term of their service. In the case of customers switching out-of-cycle from transportation to sales service, the customer will be charged the cost of incremental gas supply under our regulatory tariff.
We have negotiated special transportation service agreements with several of our largest industrial customers. These special agreements are designed to provide transportation rates that are competitive with the customers alternative capital and operating costs of installing direct connections to Northwest Pipelines interstate pipeline system, which would allow them to bypass our gas distribution system. These agreements generally prohibit bypass during their terms. Due to the cost pressures that confront a number of our largest customers competing in global markets, bypass continues to be a competitive threat. Although we do not expect a significant number of our large customers to bypass our system in the foreseeable future, we may experience further deterioration of margin associated with customers transferring to special contracts where pricing is specifically designed to be competitive with their bypass alternative.
Our gas storage business segment includes natural gas storage services provided to interstate and intrastate customers in the Pacific Northwest using underground gas storage and pipeline facilities we own and operate. We also use an independent energy marketing company to provide asset optimization services for the utility under a contractual arrangement, the results of which are included in this business segment.
Currently, 3 percent of our consolidated assets and 12 percent of our consolidated net income in 2008 are related to the gas storage business segment. For each of the years ended December 31, 2008, 2007, and 2006, this business segment derived a majority of its revenues from multi-year contracts with less than 10 customers taking service at our Mist storage facility. The total working gas capacity at our Mist gas storage facility is approximately 16 Bcf. Of this capacity, approximately 9 Bcf, or 56 percent of storage capacity, is currently used by our utility, and the remaining 7 Bcf, or 44 percent, is committed to gas storage customers primarily under firm storage contracts. See Note 2 for more information on total assets and results of operations for the years ended December 31, 2008, 2007 and 2006.
Pre-tax income from gas storage at Mist and third-party optimization services using our utilitys storage or transportation capacity is subject to revenue sharing with core utility customers. In Oregon, 80 percent of the pre-tax income is retained by the gas storage segment when the costs of the capacity used have not been included in utility rates, or 33 percent of the pre-tax income is retained when the capacity costs have been included in utility rates. The remaining 20 percent and 67 percent of pre-tax income in each case are credited to a deferred regulatory account for refund to our core utility customers. We have a similar sharing mechanism in Washington for pre-tax income derived from gas storage services and third-party optimization activities.
We are currently in the process of developing a second underground gas storage facility and related pipeline in the Fresno, California area. This project is expected to serve the California market. We plan to move ahead with construction later this year, subject to market conditions and our ability to obtain regulatory approvals (see Gill Ranch, below).
Seasonality of business. Generally, gas storage revenues do not follow seasonal patterns similar to those experienced by the utility because rates for firm storage contracts are in the form of fixed monthly reservation charges and are not affected by customer usage. However, there is some seasonal variation from the optimization of excess utility storage and related transportation capacity. Excess capacity is usually available during the spring and summer months when the demand for gas by utility customers is low.
Customers. Our gas storage business segment generally enters into contracts with customers for firm storage capacity for terms ranging from one to 10 years. Currently, our revenues are primarily derived from a few large storage customers who provide energy related services, including natural gas distribution, electric generation and energy marketing companies. Five storage customers currently contracted account for over 90 percent of our existing gas storage capacity, with the largest customer accounting for about half of total capacity. These five customers have contracts that expire at various dates between April 2009 through March 2015, with the largest customers contract expiring in March 2015.
Competitive conditions. Our existing gas storage facility faces limited competition from other west coast storage projects primarily because of its geographic location. In the future, we could face increased competition from new or expanded natural gas storage facilities as well as from natural gas pipelines and marketers.
Interstate gas storage. This part of the business segment currently provides firm and interruptible gas storage services at Mist with related transportation services on the utilitys system to and from Mist to interstate pipeline interconnections. The interstate storage services, and maximum rates for these services, are authorized by the FERC. The storage capacity used by this business segment has been developed as a non-utility investment by NW Natural in advance of core utility customers requirements.
Intrastate gas storage. We provide intrastate gas storage services under an OPUC-approved rate schedule that includes service and site-specific qualifications. The firm storage service terms and conditions mirror the firm interstate storage service regulated by FERC, except that these customers are located and served in Oregon.
Gill Ranch. In September 2007, we announced a joint project with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to develop a new underground natural gas storage facility at Gill Ranch near Fresno, California (Gill Ranch). We formed a wholly-owned subsidiary of NW Natural to develop and operate the facility, Gill Ranch Storage, LLC. Our subsidiary will initially own 75 percent of the project, and PG&E will own 25 percent. The initial development of this new storage facility is expected to provide approximately 20 Bcf of underground gas storage capacity and will include approximately 27 miles of transmission pipeline when the initial phase is completed. We estimate our 75 percent share of the total project cost for the initial phase of development, which began in 2008 and is expected to continue through 2010, to be between $160 million and $180 million. In July 2008, Gill Ranch filed an application with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. If granted, Gill Ranch will be subject to CPUC regulation with respect to rates and will require regulatory approvals for certain activities, including but not limited to securities issuance, terms of services, systems of accounts, lien grants and sales of property. We expect the initial phase of Gill Ranch to be in-service by late 2010.
We have non-utility investments and other business activities which are aggregated and reported as a business segment called Other. Although in the aggregate these investments and activities are not material, we identify and report them as a stand-alone segment based on our current organization structure and decision-making process and because these business investments and activities are not specifically related to our utility or gas storage segments. This segment primarily consists of an equity method investment in a joint venture to build and operate an interstate gas transmission pipeline in Oregon (see Part II, Item 7., 2009 OutlookStrategic OpportunitiesPipeline Diversification, below) and pipeline assets in NNG Financial Corporation, as well as some operating and non-operating expenses of the parent company that cannot be charged to utility operations. Until recently, this segment also had equity investments in several windpower and solar electric generating projects in California and a Boeing 737 aircraft leased to a commercial airline. The aircraft investment was sold in April 2008, and the windpower and solar investments were sold in years prior to 2008. Approximately 1 percent of our consolidated assets and about 3 percent of 2008 consolidated net income are related to activities in the Other business segment. See Note 2 for more information on total assets and results of operations for the three years ended December 31, 2008.
Regulation and Rates
We are subject to regulation with respect to, among other matters, rates, terms of services, and systems of accounts established by the OPUC, the WUTC and the FERC. The OPUC and WUTC also regulate our issuance of securities. Approximately 90 percent of our utility operating revenues are derived from Oregon customers, and the balance is derived from Washington customers.
We periodically file general rate case and rate tariff requests with the OPUC, WUTC and FERC to change the rates we charge our utility and storage customers. With certain exceptions, our most recent agreement with the OPUC precludes us from filing a general rate case request before September 2011, but does not preclude us from filing other types of rate adjustment requests. In 2008, we filed a general rate case in Washington that was approved on December 26, 2008 with the resulting changes to rates effective on January 1, 2009 (see Part II, Item 7., Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersGeneral Rate Cases, below). We are required under our Mist interstate storage certificate authority and rate approval orders to file every three years either a petition for rate approval or a cost and revenue study to change or justify maintaining the existing rates for the interstate storage service. In the future, we may be subject to regulation in other states, such as California, resulting from our strategic investments such as Gill Ranch. For further information, see Part II, Item 7., Results of OperationsRegulatory Matters, and Gas StorageGill Ranch, above.
Properties and Facilities
We have properties and facilities that are subject to federal, state and local laws and regulations related to environmental matters. These laws and regulations may require expenditures over a long timeframe to control environmental effects. Estimates of liabilities for environmental response costs are difficult to determine with precision because of the various factors that can affect their ultimate disposition. These factors include, but are not limited to, the following:
We own, or previously owned, properties currently being investigated that may require environmental response, including: a property in Multnomah County, Oregon that is the site of a former gas manufacturing plant that was closed in 1956 (Gasco site); a property adjacent to the Gasco site that is now the location of a manufacturing plant owned by Siltronic Corporation (Siltronic site); an area adjacent to the Gasco and the Siltronic sites in the Willamette River that has been listed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Superfund site for which we have been identified as one of a number of potentially responsible parties (Portland Harbor site); the former location of a gas manufacturing plant operated by our predecessor that is outside the geographic scope of the current Portland Harbor site (Front Street site); and the former site of three manufactured gas tanks (Central
Service Center site). Based on our current assessment of regulatory and insurance recovery of environmental costs, we do not expect that the ultimate resolution of these matters will have a material adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows; however, if it is determined that both the insurance recovery and future rate recovery of such costs are not probable, then the costs not expected to be recovered will be charged to expense in the period such determination is made and could have a material impact on our financial condition or results of operations. See Note 12, for a further discussion of potential environmental responses, related costs and regulatory and insurance recovery.
Future Environmental Issues
We recognize that our business is likely to face future carbon constraints. A variety of legislative and regulatory measures to address greenhouse gas emissions are in various phases of discussion or implementation. These include the proposed international standards, proposed federal legislation and proposed or enacted state actions to develop statewide or regional programs, each of which have imposed or would impose measures to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The outcome of federal and state climate change initiatives cannot be determined at this time, but these initiatives could produce a number of results including potential new regulations, additional charges to fund energy efficiency activities, or other regulatory actions. These actions could result in increased costs associated with operating and maintaining our facilities, could increase other costs to our business and could impact the prices we charge our customers. Because natural gas is a fossil fuel with low carbon content, it is possible that future carbon constraints could create additional demand for natural gas, both for electric production and direct use in homes and businesses.
We continue to take steps to address future greenhouse gas emission issues, including actively participating in policy development through the Oregon Governors Task Force on Climate Change and leading efforts within the American Gas Association to promote the enactment of fair federal climate change legislation. In 2008, our current President and CEO was appointed to the newly formed Oregon Global Warming Commission. We continue to engage in policy development and in identifying ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with our operations and our customers gas use, including the introduction of the Smart Energy program, which allows customers to contribute funds to projects that offset greenhouse gases produced from their natural gas use.
At December 31, 2008, our workforce consisted of 717 members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union (OPEIU), Local No. 11, AFL-CIO, and approximately 400 management level and other non-bargaining employees. Our labor agreement (Joint Accord) with members of OPEIU that covers wages, benefits and working conditions extends to May 31, 2009, and thereafter from year to year unless either party serves notice of its intent to negotiate modifications to the collective bargaining agreement. Each party has served notice of intent to negotiate the terms of an agreement prior to the May 31, 2009 expiration date.
Additions to Infrastructure
We expect to make a significant level of capital expenditures for additions to utility and storage infrastructure over the next five years, reflecting continued investments in customer growth, technology, distribution system enhancements and the development of additional gas storage facilities. In 2009, utility capital expenditures are estimated to be between $100 and $110 million, and non-utility
capital investments are estimated to be between $50 and $70 million for business development projects that are currently in process. For the years 2009-2013, capital expenditures for the utility are estimated to be between $450 and $500 million, while the amount for business development investments after 2009 will depend largely on future decisions about potential opportunities in gas storage and pipeline projects.
We file annual, quarterly and special reports and other information with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Reports, proxy statements and other information filed by us can be read and copied at the public reference room of the SEC, 100 F Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20549. You can obtain additional information about the Public Reference Room by calling the SEC at 1-800-SEC-0330. The SEC also maintains a website (http://www.sec.gov) that contains reports, proxy statements and other information that we file electronically. In addition, we make available on our website (http://www.nwnatural.com), our annual report on Form 10-K, quarterly reports on Form 10-Q, current reports on Form 8-K, and amendments to those reports, as well as proxy materials, filed or furnished pursuant to Section 13(a) or 15(d) and Section 14 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (Exchange Act), as soon as reasonably practicable after we electronically file such material with, or furnish it to, the SEC.
We have adopted a Code of Ethics for all employees and a Financial Code of Ethics that applies to senior financial employees, both of which are available on our website. We intend to disclose amendments to, and any waivers from, such codes of ethics on our website. Our Corporate Governance Standards, Director Independence Standards, charters of each of the committees of the Board of Directors and additional information about us are also available on the website. Copies of these documents may be requested, at no cost, by writing or calling Shareholder Services, NW Natural, One Pacific Square, 220 N.W. Second Avenue, Portland, Oregon 97209, telephone 503-226-4211.
Our Chief Executive Officer certified to the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on May 23, 2008 that, as of that date, he was not aware of any violation by the company of the NYSEs corporate governance listing standards, and that we had filed with the SEC, as Exhibits 31.1 and 31.2 to our Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2007, the certificates of the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Financial Officer certifying the quality of NW Naturals internal control over financial reporting and public disclosures. For the year-ended December 31, 2008, the certificates of the Chief Executive Officer and the Chief Financial Officer are filed with this report as Exhibits 31.1 and 31.2.
Our business and financial results are subject to a number of risks and uncertainties. When considering any investment in our securities, investors should consider the following information, as well as information contained in the caption Forward Looking Statements, and other documents we file with the SEC. This list is not exhaustive and our management places no priority or likelihood based on their order of presentation.
Economic risk. Changes in the economy and in the financial markets may have a negative impact on our financial condition and results of operations.
The global credit and financial markets have been experiencing significant disruption and volatility in recent months. At the same time the U.S. economy has slowed, unemployment rates are
rising, and there has been an increase in mortgage defaults and a decrease in the value of homes and investment assets, which has adversely affected the income and financial resources of many domestic households. It is unclear whether the federal responses to these conditions will lessen the severity or duration of this economic downturn. Our operations are affected by these economic conditions. Less new housing construction, fewer conversions to natural gas, higher levels of residential foreclosures and vacancies, and personal and business bankruptcies or reduced spending could all result in a decline in energy consumption and customer growth and have a negative effect on our financial condition and results of operations.
Regulatory risk. Regulation of our business, including changes in the regulatory environment in general, and failure of regulatory authorities to approve rates which provide for timely recovery of our costs and an adequate return on invested capital in particular, may adversely impact our financial condition and results of operations.
The OPUC and WUTC have general regulatory authority over our utility business in Oregon and Washington, respectively, including rates and charges, the issuance of securities, services and facilities, terms of customer services, system of accounts, investments, safety standards, transactions with affiliated interests and other matters. In addition, FERC has regulatory authority over our interstate gas storage services, and the CPUC will have regulatory authority over our Gill Ranch gas storage development and operations.
The rates we charge to customers must be approved by the applicable regulatory agencies. Our rates are generally designed to allow us to recover the costs of providing such services and to earn an adequate return on our capital investment. However, we expect the rates charged to customers of Gill Ranch for gas storage services will be based on what customers are willing to pay (i.e. market-based rates) rather than on our recovery of costs plus a return on our investment. We expect to continue to make expenditures to expand, improve and operate our distribution and storage systems. Regulators can deny recovery of expenditures we make if they find that such expenditures were not prudently incurred according to their regulatory standards.
In addition, in the normal course of our business we may place assets in service or incur higher levels of operating expense before rate cases can be filed to recover those coststhis is commonly referred to as regulatory lag. The failure of any regulatory commission to approve requested rate increases on a timely basis to recover increased costs or to allow an adequate return could adversely impact our financial condition and results of operations.
Gas price risk. Higher natural gas commodity prices and volatility in the price of gas may adversely affect our results of operations and cash flows.
In recent years, we have seen a significant increase in the volatility of natural gas commodity prices, primarily due to shifts in the balance of supply and demand. Early in 2008, we saw natural gas prices rise to record high levels as demand grew, especially for new electric power generation, which was outpacing North American gas production. Then during the second half of 2008, the price of natural gas fell significantly as our national economy fell into a recession and demand for natural gas declined while North American gas production increased. There are a number of external factors that affect the balance of natural gas supply and demand, including the level of gas imports, regional accessibility to gas supplies, supply disruptions, changes in the global energy markets, the availability of pipeline capacity to transport natural gas from region to region and changes in general economic conditions. The cost we pay for natural gas is generally passed through to our customers through an
annual PGA rate adjustment in Oregon and Washington (see below). Significant increases in the commodity price of natural gas raises the cost of energy to our existing customers, thereby causing those customers to conserve or potentially switch to alternate sources of energy. Significant price increases could also cause new home builders and commercial developers to select heating systems other than natural gas. Decreases in the volume of gas we sell could reduce our earnings in the absence of decoupled rate structures, and a decline in customers could slow growth in our future earnings.
Higher gas prices may also cause us to experience an increase in short-term debt and temporarily reduce liquidity because we pay suppliers for gas when it is purchased, which can be materially in advance of when these costs are recovered through rates. Significant increases in the price of gas can also slow our collection efforts as customers experience increased difficulty in paying their higher energy bills, leading to higher than normal delinquent accounts receivable. This could contribute to higher short-term debt levels, greater expense associated with collection efforts and increased bad debt expense.
In Oregon and Washington, our utility has PGA tariffs which provide for annual revisions in rates resulting from changes in the cost of purchased gas including the expected impact on bad debt expense. In Oregon, we also have a price-elasticity adjustment that adjusts rates through the annual PGA for expected increases or decreases in customer usage due to higher or lower gas prices. The Oregon PGA tariff also provides an incentive to the Company to achieve lower gas costs such that a percentage, set annually, of any difference between the actual purchased gas costs and the actual recoveries of gas costs in rates be recognized as current income or expense (see Part II, Item 7., Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersRate Mechanisms). Accordingly, higher gas costs than those assumed in setting rates can adversely affect our operating cash flows, liquidity and results of operations, until such costs are recovered from customers. Notwithstanding our current rate structure, higher gas costs could result in increased pressure on the OPUC or the WUTC to seek other means to reduce rates, which also could adversely affect our results of operations and cash flows.
Inability to access capital market risk. Our inability to access capital or significant increases in the cost of capital could adversely affect our business.
Our ability to obtain adequate and cost effective short-term and long-term financing depends on our credit ratings as well as the liquidity and stability of financial markets. Our businesses rely on access to capital markets, including the commercial paper markets, to finance our operations, construction expenditures and other business requirements, and to refund maturing debt that cannot be funded entirely by internal cash flows. A negative change in our ratings by credit rating agencies could adversely affect our financing cost, liquidity and access to capital. Additionally, downgrades in our current credit ratings below investment-grade could cause additional delays in accessing the credit markets by the utility while we seek supplemental regulatory approval from the OPUC. Disruptions in the capital and credit markets could also adversely affect our ability to access short-term and long-term capital. Our access to funds under committed short-term credit facilities, which are currently provided by a number of banks, is dependent on the ability of the participating banks to meet their funding commitments. Those banks may not be able to meet their funding commitments if they experience shortages of capital and liquidity. Longer disruptions in the bank or capital financing markets as a result of economic uncertainty, changing or increased regulation of the financial sector, or failure of major financial institutions could adversely affect our access to capital and may negatively impact our ability to run the business and make strategic investments.
Hedging risk. Our risk management policies and hedging activities cannot eliminate the risk of commodity price movements and other financial market risks, and our hedging activities may expose us to additional liabilities for which rate recovery may be disallowed.
Our gas purchasing requirements expose us to risks of commodity price movements, while our use of debt and equity financing exposes us to interest rate and other financial market risks. We attempt to manage these exposures and mitigate our risks through enforcement of established risk limits and risk management procedures, including hedging activities that are in accordance with our derivatives policies. These risk limits and risk management procedures may not always work as planned and cannot entirely eliminate the risks associated with hedging. Additionally, our hedging activities may cause us to incur additional expenses which could result in a material adverse effect on our operating revenues, costs, derivative assets and liabilities, and operating cash flows.
We cannot and do not hedge our entire interest rate or commodity cost exposure, and the unhedged exposure will vary over time. Gains or losses experienced through hedging activities, including carrying costs, generally flow through the PGA mechanism or are recovered in future general rate cases, thereby limiting our exposure to earnings volatility on a year-to-year basis. However, the hedge transactions we enter into for the utility are subject to a prudency review by the OPUC and WUTC, and, if deemed imprudent, those expenses may be disallowed, which could have a material adverse effect on our operating revenues, costs, derivative assets and liabilities, and operating cash flows. In addition, actual business requirements and available resources may vary from forecasts, which are used as the basis for our hedging decisions, and could cause our exposure to be more or less hedged than we anticipated. Additionally, if our derivative instruments and hedging transactions do not qualify for hedge accounting under Statement of Financial Accounting Standards (SFAS) No. 133, Accounting for Derivative Instruments and Hedging Activities, our hedges may not be effective and our results of operations, cash flows and financial condition could be adversely affected.
We also have credit related exposure to financial derivative counterparties. In general, we require our counterparties to have a high level investment-grade credit rating at the time the derivative instrument is entered into, and we specify limits on the contract amount and duration based on each counterpartys credit rating. Nevertheless, counterparties owing us money or physical natural gas commodities could breach their obligations. Should the counterparties to these arrangements fail to perform, we may be forced to enter into alternative arrangements. In that event, our financial results could be adversely affected. Although our valuations take into account the expected probability of default by counterparties, an actual default by a particular counterparty could have a greater impact than we estimated. Additionally, under most of our hedging arrangements, any downgrade of our senior secured long-term debt credit rating below investment grade could allow our counterparties to require us to post cash, a letter of credit or other form of collateral, which would expose us to additional costs and may trigger significant increases in draws from our borrowing facilities.
Customer growth risk. Our results of operations may be negatively affected if we are unable to sustain customer growth rates in our local gas distribution business.
Our margins and earnings growth have largely depended upon the sustained growth of our residential and commercial customer base due, in part, to the new construction housing market, conversions of customers to natural gas from other fuel sources and growing commercial use of natural gas. Should there be continued weakness in the new housing market, a slowdown in the conversion market or declining use of natural gas by our residential and commercial customer base, there could be an adverse long-term impact on our utility margin, earnings and cash flows.
Risk of competition. Our gas distribution and storage businesses are subject to increased competition which could negatively affect our results of operations.
In the residential market, our gas distribution business competes primarily with suppliers of electricity, fuel oil and propane. We also compete with suppliers of electricity and fuel oil for commercial applications. In the industrial market, we compete with all forms of energy suppliers. Competition among these forms of energy is based on price, reliability, efficiency and performance.
Higher natural gas prices have at times eroded, or in some cases eliminated, the competitive price advantage of natural gas over other energy sources. Also, technological improvements in other energy sources could erode our competitive advantage. If natural gas prices continue to rise relative to other energy sources, it may negatively affect our ability to attract new customers, and our residential, commercial and industrial customers may use alternative sources of energy or bypass our systems in favor of contracts with lower per-unit costs, which could have a negative impact on our customer growth rate and results of operations.
Additionally, our existing gas storage segment currently faces limited competition from other west coast storage projects primarily because of its geographic location. In the future, we could face increased competition from new or expanded natural gas storage facilities, interstate pipelines and gas marketers seeking to provide or arrange transportation, storage and other services for customers.
Reliance on third parties to supply natural gas risk. We rely on third parties to supply all of the natural gas we store and deliver, and limitations on our ability to obtain supplies could have a material impact on our financial results.
Our ability to provide natural gas for current and future sales depends upon our ability to obtain and deliver supplies of natural gas, as well as our ability to acquire supplies directly from new sources. Certain factors including the following may affect our ability to acquire and deliver natural gas to our current and future customers: suppliers or other third parties control over the drilling of new wells and facilities to transport natural gas to our distribution system; competition for the acquisition of natural gas; priority allocations on transmission pipelines; impact of severe weather disruptions to natural gas supplies such as occurred with Hurricane Katrina in 2005; the regulatory and pricing policies of federal, state and local government agencies; and the availability of Canadian reserves for export to the United States. If we are unable to obtain or are limited in our ability to obtain natural gas from our current suppliers or new sources, our financial results could be materially impacted.
Single transportation pipeline risk. We rely on a single pipeline company for the transportation of gas to our service territory, a disruption of which could adversely impact our ability to meet our customers gas requirements.
Our distribution system is directly connected to a single interstate pipeline, Northwest Pipeline. The pipelines gas flows are bi-directional and it transports gas into the Portland metropolitan market from two directions: (1) the north, which brings supplies from British Columbia and Alberta supply basins; and (2) the east, which brings supplies from Alberta as well as the U.S. Rocky Mountain supply basins. Our results of operations may be negatively impacted if there is a rupture in the pipeline and we incur costs associated with actions taken to mitigate service disruptions.
Business development risk. The development, construction, startup and operation of our business development projects may involve unanticipated changes or delays that could negatively impact our costs as well as our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Business development projects involve many risks. We are in the early development stages on two strategic business development projects: the Gill Ranch gas storage facility in California, and the Palomar gas transmission pipeline in Oregon. We may also engage in other business development projects in the future. With respect to these projects, we may not be able to obtain required governmental permits and approvals, or financing, to complete our projects in a cost-efficient or timely manner. If we do not obtain the necessary regulatory approvals in a timely manner, development projects may be delayed or abandoned. There also may be startup and construction delays, construction cost overruns, inability to negotiate acceptable agreements such as rights-of-way, easements, construction, gas supply or other material contracts, changes in market prices; and operating cost increases. Additionally, natural gas storage and gas transportation markets are intensely competitive, both within the natural gas industry and with alternative sources of energy. To complete our business development projects, we will need to secure financing from willing lenders at reasonable interest rates. If the current tight credit markets persist or become more inaccessible, we may be unable to acquire the necessary financing to fund our business development projects at acceptable interest rates within a timeframe favorable for completing the project. Similarly, an inability to obtain the necessary state permits, secure acceptable financing, or arrange for sufficient supplier commitments, could impact the viability of an LNG terminal on the Columbia river and may mean that we would not proceed with the western portion of Palomar. One or more of these events may mean that our equity investments could become impaired and such impairment could have an adverse effect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Joint partner risk. Investing in business development projects through partnerships, joint ventures or other business arrangements decreases our ability to manage certain risks.
We use joint ventures and other business arrangements to manage and diversify the risks of certain non-utility development projects, including Palomar and Gill Ranch, and we may acquire interests in other similar types of projects in the future. Under these types of business arrangements, we may not be able to fully direct the management and policies of the business relationships, and other participants in those relationships may take action contrary to our interests. In addition, other participants may withdraw from the project, become financially distressed or bankrupt, or have economic or other business interests or goals that are inconsistent with ours. Although we have contractual and other legal remedies to enforce our interests, if a participant in one of these business arrangements acts contrary to our interests, it could adversely impact our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Environmental risk. Certain of our properties and facilities may pose environmental risks requiring remediation, the cost of which could adversely affect our results of operations, financial condition and cash flows.
We own, or previously owned, properties that require environmental remediation or other action. We accrue all material loss contingencies relating to these properties, but our results of operations may be adversely affected to the extent that estimates of the probable costs increase significantly as additional information becomes available and to the extent we are not able to recover the incremental cost from insurance or through customer rates. A regulatory asset has already been recorded for some of these estimated costs pursuant to a deferral order from the OPUC. To the extent we are unable to recover these deferred costs in rates or through insurance, we would be required to reduce our regulatory asset which could adversely affect our results of operations and financial condition. In addition, disputes may arise between potentially responsible parties and regulators as to
the severity of particular environmental matters and what remediation efforts are appropriate. These disputes could lead to adversarial administrative proceedings or litigation, with uncertain outcomes.
We cannot predict with certainty the amount or timing of future expenditures related to environmental investigation and remediation that may be required because of the difficulty of estimating such costs. There is also uncertainty in quantifying liabilities under environmental laws that impose joint and several liability on all potentially responsible parties. There are also no assurances that existing environmental regulations will not be revised or that new stricter regulations seeking to protect the environment will not be adopted or become applicable to us. Revised environmental regulations which result in increased compliance costs or additional operating restrictions could have an adverse effect on our results of operations, particularly if those costs are not fully recoverable from customers.
Global climate change legislation risk. Management expects that future legislation may impose carbon constraints to address global climate change exposing us to regulatory and financial risk.
There are a number of new federal and state legislative and regulatory initiatives being proposed and adopted in an attempt to control or limit the effects of global warming and overall climate change, including greenhouse gas emissions such as carbon dioxide. The outcome of federal and state actions to address climate change could result in a variety of regulatory programs including potential new regulations, additional requirements to fund energy efficiency activities, or other regulatory actions. These actions could result in increased compliance and other costs, additional operating restrictions, and could impact the prices we charge our customers, which could adversely affect our business practices, financial condition or results of operations.
Weather risk. Our results of operations may be negatively affected by warmer than average or colder than average weather.
We are exposed to weather risk primarily in our utility business segment. A majority of our volume is driven from gas sales made to space heating residential and commercial customers during each winter heating season. Current utility rates are based on an assumption of average weather. Weather that is warmer than average typically results in lower gas sales. Sustained cold weather could adversely affect our utility margin in the short-term as we may be required to purchase gas at spot rates in a rising price market to obtain sufficient volumes to fulfill customer requirements. Although the effects of warmer or colder weather on utility margin in Oregon are intended to be largely mitigated through the operation of our weather normalization mechanism. Oregon customers may opt out of the mechanism. Approximately 10 percent of our residential and commercial customers are in Washington where we do not have a weather normalization mechanism or conservation tariff. Furthermore, continuation of the weather normalization mechanism and conservation tariff in Oregon after October 2012, are subject to regulatory approval. As a result, we may not be fully protected against warmer than average or colder than average weather, both of which may have an adverse affect on our financial condition, results of operations and cash flows.
Customer conservation risk. Customers conservation efforts may have a negative impact on our revenues.
Higher gas costs and rates and an increasing national focus on energy conservation may result in increased gas conservation by customers, which can decrease sales and adversely affect our results of operations. The OPUC authorized our conservation tariff, which is designed to recover lost margin
due to changes in residential and commercial customers consumption. The conservation tariff is scheduled to expire in October 2012 (see Results of OperationsRate MechanismsConservation Tariff, below). The failure of the OPUC to extend the conservation tariff in the future could adversely affect our financial condition, cash flows and results of operations. We do not have a conservation tariff in Washington.
Operating risk. Transporting and storing natural gas involves numerous risks that may result in accidents and other operating risks and costs.
Our gas distribution activities are subject to a variety of operating hazards and risks that cannot be completely avoided, such as leaks, accidents, mechanical problems, fires, explosions, earthquakes, floods, storms, landslides and other adverse weather conditions and hazards, which could cause substantial financial losses. In addition, these risks could result in loss of human life, significant damage to property, environmental pollution and disruption of our operations, which in turn could lead to substantial losses. The occurrence of any of these events may not be covered by our insurance policies or be recoverable through rates, which could adversely affect our financial condition and results of operations.
Business continuity risk. We may be adversely impacted by national disasters, terrorist activities and other extreme events to which we may not able to promptly respond.
National disasters, terrorist activities and other extreme events are a threat to our assets and operations. Companies in our industry may face a heightened risk to exposure to actual acts of terrorism that could target or impact our natural gas distribution, transmission and storage facilities and result in a disruption in our operations and ability to meet customer requirements. In addition, the threat of terrorist activities could lead to increased economic instability and volatility in the price of natural gas that could affect our operations. Threatened or actual national disasters or terrorist activities may also disrupt capital markets and our ability to raise capital, or impact our suppliers or our customers directly. We maintain emergency planning and training programs to remain ready to respond to extreme events. However, a slow or inadequate response to extreme events may have an adverse affect on operations and earnings. We may not be able to obtain sufficient insurance to cover all risks associated with national disasters, terrorist activities and other extreme events, which could increase the risk that an event could adversely affect our operations or financial results.
Employee benefit risk. The cost of providing pension and postretirement healthcare benefits is subject to changes in pension asset values, changing demographics and actuarial assumptions which may have an adverse effect on our financial results.
We provide pension plans and postretirement healthcare benefits to eligible full-time employees. Our costs of providing such benefits is subject to changes in the market value of our pension fund assets, changing demographics, including longer life expectancies of beneficiaries, an expected increase in the number of eligible former employees over the next five to 10 years, increases in healthcare costs, current and future legislative changes and various actuarial calculations and assumptions. The actuarial assumptions used may differ materially from actual results due to changing market and economic conditions, withdrawal rates, interest rates and other factors. These differences may result in a significant impact on the amount of pension expense or other postretirement benefit costs recorded in future periods. Sustained declines in equity markets and reductions in bond yields may have a material adverse effect on the value of our pension fund assets. In these circumstances, we may be required to recognize increased contributions and pension expense earlier than we had planned
to the extent that the value of pension assets is less than the total anticipated liability under the plans, which could have a negative impact on cash flows and results of operations.
Workforce risk. Our business is heavily dependent on being able to attract and retain qualified employees and to maintain a competitive cost structure with market-based salaries and employee benefits, and workforce disruptions could adversely affect our operations and results.
Our ability to implement our business strategy and serve our customers in our gas distribution business is dependent upon our continuing ability to attract and retain talented professionals and a technically skilled workforce, and being able to transfer the knowledge and expertise of our workforce to new employees as our aging employees retire. Without an appropriately skilled workforce, our ability to provide quality service to our customers and meet our regulatory requirements will be challenged and this could negatively impact our earnings. Additionally, a majority of our workers are represented by Office and Professional Employees International Union Local No.11 AFL-CIO (the Union) and are covered by a collective bargaining agreement that will expire May 31, 2009. The Company and the Union are expected to negotiate an agreement, but failure to reach an acceptable collective bargaining agreement with the Union in a timely manner could result in instability in our labor relationship and work stoppages that could impact the timely delivery of our product and services, which could strain relationships with customers and state regulators and cause a loss of revenues which could adversely affect our results of operations. The terms of a revised collective bargaining agreement may increase the cost of employing our workforce, affect our ability to continue offering market-based salaries and employee benefits, limit our flexibility in dealing with our workforce, and limit our ability to change work rules and practices and implement other efficiency-related improvements to successfully compete effectively in todays competitive marketplace.
Legislative and taxing authority risk. We are subject to governmental regulation, and our compliance with local, state and federal requirements, including taxing requirements, and unforeseen changes in or interpretations of such requirements could affect our financial condition and results of operations.
We are subject to regulation by federal, state and local governmental authorities. We are required to comply with a variety of laws and regulations and to obtain authorizations, permits, approvals and certificates from governmental agencies in various aspects of our business. We cannot predict with certainty the impact of any future revisions or changes in interpretations of existing regulations or the adoption of new laws and regulations applicable to them. Changes in regulations or the imposition of additional regulations could negatively influence our operating environment and results of operations. For example, Oregon legislation that became effective in 2006, requires that utilities not collect in rates more income taxes than they actually pay to taxing authorities. If amounts paid differ from amounts we collect by more than $100,000 we are required to implement a rate schedule with an automatic adjustment clause to refund or surcharge the difference, which could be material.
Additionally, changes in federal, state or local tax laws and their related regulations, or differing interpretation or enforcement of applicable law by a federal, state or local taxing authority could negatively affect our results of operations. Tax law and its related regulations and case law are inherently complex. Disputes over interpretations of tax laws may be settled with the taxing authority in examination, upon appeal or through litigation. Our judgments may include reserves for potential adverse outcomes regarding tax positions that have been taken that may be subject to challenge by
taxing authorities. Unforeseen changes in laws, regulations or adverse judgments may negatively affect our financial condition and results of operations.
We have no unresolved comments.
Our natural gas distribution system consists of approximately 13,800 miles of distribution and transmission mains located in our service territory in Oregon and Washington. In addition, the distribution system includes service pipes, meters and regulators, and gas regulating and metering stations. The mains are located in municipal streets or alleys pursuant to valid franchise or occupation ordinances, in county roads or state highways pursuant to valid agreements or permits granted pursuant to statute, or on lands of others pursuant to valid easements obtained from the owners of such lands. We also hold all necessary permits for the crossing of the Willamette River and a number of smaller rivers by our mains.
We own service facilities in Portland, as well as various satellite service centers, garages, warehouses and other buildings necessary and useful in the conduct of our business. We lease office space in Portland for our corporate headquarters, which lease expires on May 31, 2018. Resource centers are maintained on owned or leased premises at convenient points in the distribution system. We own LNG storage facilities in Portland and near Newport, Oregon.
We hold interests in approximately 8,500 net acres of underground natural gas storage and approximately 1,600 net acres of oil and gas leases in Oregon. We own rights to depleted gas reservoirs near Mist, Oregon, that are continuing to be developed and operated as underground gas storage facilities. We also hold an option to purchase future storage rights in certain other areas of the Mist gas field in Oregon, as well as in California related to the Gill Ranch storage project.
In order to reduce risks associated with gas leakage in older parts of our system, we undertook an accelerated pipe replacement program under which we removed or replaced 100 percent of our cast iron mains by October 2000. In 2001, we initiated an accelerated pipe replacement program under which we expect to eliminate all bare steel mains and services in the system by 2021.
We consider all of our properties currently used in our operations, both owned and leased, to be well maintained, in good operating condition, and, along with planned additions, adequate for our present and foreseeable future needs.
Our Mortgage and Deed of Trust is a first mortgage lien on substantially all of the property constituting our utility plant.
Other than the proceedings disclosed in Note 12, we have only routine nonmaterial litigation in the ordinary course of business.
There were no matters submitted to a vote of security holders, through the solicitation of proxies or otherwise, during the quarter ended December 31, 2008.
(A) Our common stock is listed and trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol NWN.
The high and low trades for our common stock during the past two years were as follows:
The closing quotations for our common stock on December 31, 2008 and 2007 were $44.23 and $48.66, respectively.
(B) As of December 31, 2008, there were 7,673 holders of record of our common stock.
(C) We have paid quarterly dividends on our common stock in each year since the stock first was issued to the public in 1951. Annual common dividend payments per share, adjusted for stock splits, have increased each year since 1956. Dividends per share paid during the past two years were as follows:
The amount and timing of dividends payable on our common stock are within the sole discretion of our Board of Directors. Our Board of Directors expects to continue paying cash dividends on our common stock on a quarterly basis. However, the declaration and amount of future dividends depend upon our earnings, cash flows, financial condition and other factors.
(D) The following table provides information about purchases of our equity securities that are registered pursuant to Section 12 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 during the quarter ended December 31, 2008:
ISSUER PURCHASES OF EQUITY SECURITIES
SELECTED FINANCIAL DATA (continued)
The following is managements assessment of Northwest Natural Gas Companys (NW Natural) financial condition, including the principal factors that affect results of operations. The discussion refers to our consolidated activities for the years ended December 31, 2008, 2007 and 2006. Unless otherwise indicated, references in this discussion to Notes are to the Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements in this report.
The consolidated financial statements include the accounts of NW Natural and its wholly-owned subsidiaries, NNG Financial Corporation (Financial Corporation) and Gill Ranch Storage, LLC (Gill Ranch), and an equity investment in a proposed natural gas pipeline. These accounts consist of our regulated local gas distribution business, our regulated gas storage business, and other regulated and non-regulated investments primarily in energy-related businesses. In this report, the term Utility is used to describe our regulated local gas distribution segment, and the term Non-utility is used to describe our gas storage segment (gas storage) and our other regulated and non-regulated investments and business activities (other segment) (see Strategic Opportunities, below, and Note 2).
In addition to presenting results of operations and earnings amounts in total, certain measures are expressed in cents per share. These amounts reflect factors that directly impact earnings. We believe this per share information is useful because it enables readers to better understand the impact of these factors on earnings. All references in this section to earnings per share are on the basis of diluted shares (see Note 1).
Highlights of 2008:
Our business primarily consists of our regulated utility and gas storage operations. Factors critical to the success of the utility business include: maintaining a safe and reliable distribution system; acquiring an adequate supply of natural gas; providing distribution services at competitive prices; and being able to recover our operating and capital costs in the rates charged to customers in a
reasonable and timely manner. Our utility is regulated by two state commissions, the Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) and the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission (WUTC). Factors critical to the success of our gas storage business include: developing additional storage capacity at competitive market prices; retaining existing customers or being able to market storage capacity to new customers; planning for the replacement of capacity that is expected to be recalled by the utility to serve growing demands of its customers; obtaining timely approval of reasonable rate increases; and with respect to future development of gas storage projects, being able to obtain financing to fund future development. Our existing gas storage business charges rates that are approved by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for interstate customers or the OPUC for intrastate customers. The Gill Ranch gas storage project currently under development will be subject to regulation by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), upon completion of certain milestones (see 2009 OutlookStrategic OpportunitiesGas Storage Development, below).
In 2009, we intend to remain focused on improving our core businesses, enhancing our strategic position, advancing business development projects related to our primary businesses, and strengthening our organizational effectiveness. The following is a brief summary of managements plans and objectives in these four areas.
Business Improvements. We are developing and implementing new technology into our operations while honing the new processes established by the changes to our operating model over the last several years. Our goal is to integrate, consolidate and streamline operations and support our employees with new technology tools that should enable us to become more effective and efficient. We intend to continue developing new technology such as: an enterprise resource planning system, which provides an integrated comprehensive suite of business application software to more efficiently process and manage information in all parts of our business; continued deployment of our new automated dispatching system throughout the business, which provides integrated planning and scheduling with global positioning capabilities to more effectively collect and distribute data to employees in remote locations; and completing the installation of our automated meter reading system, which will convert the remaining customer meters so that all of our meters can be read electronically by the end of 2009. We expect these and other new technologies to continue supporting our new operating model, which re-aligned our operating functions into key process areas such as customer services, energy supply and gas delivery, to help centralize and standardize all of our business operations. For further discussion, see Strategic Opportunities, below.
Strategic Position. In our rapidly changing business environment, we remain focused on creating shareholder value while balancing the interests of our customers, employees and the communities we serve. In doing so, we intend to develop and re-work plans in response to our changing business environment, including potential climate change legislation as well as ongoing economic, regulatory, business development and workforce challenges and opportunities. For further discussion, see Issues, Challenges and Performance Measures, and Strategic Opportunities, below.
Business Development. In addition to exploring new growth opportunities, we intend to continue advancing key natural gas infrastructure investments during 2009, including our gas transmission pipeline project in Oregon and our gas storage project in California. For further discussion of these two projects, see Strategic Opportunities, below.
Organizational Effectiveness. Our employees continue to be our most highly valued resource. We intend to continue supporting our employees with a positive work environment, providing
development training, and developing new technologies to achieve our goals and facilitate improvements to our operating model. For further discussion see Strategic Opportunities, below.
Issues, Challenges and Performance Measures
Managing the business in a period of gas price volatility. Our gas acquisition strategy is primarily designed to secure sufficient supplies of natural gas to meet the needs of our utilitys residential, commercial and industrial customers on firm service. Equally important, however, is our strategy to hedge gas prices for a significant portion of our annual purchase requirements based upon our utilitys gas load forecast for core utility customers. We have hedged gas prices for the majority of our gas purchases for the gas contract year that began on November 1, 2008, and we believe we have sufficient supplies of natural gas to meet the needs of our core utility customers. Although gas prices reached historically high levels during the third quarter of 2008, the price of natural gas has declined significantly in recent months and is currently below the prices embedded in our customers rates through our annual purchased gas adjustment (PGA). Gas costs lower or higher than those set in the PGA may positively or negatively impact earnings, respectively, due to an incentive sharing mechanism in Oregon. Higher gas costs are also likely to affect our competitive advantage because they could reduce our ability to add residential and commercial customers and potentially cause industrial customers to shift their energy needs to alternative fuel sources. In October 2008, the OPUC approved a change to the PGA incentive sharing mechanism that allows us to select a cost-sharing ratio annually. The PGA cost-sharing ratio, along with gas hedging strategies and inventories in storage, enables us to manage and reduce earnings risk exposure due to higher gas costs. We believe the modification to the Oregon PGA better aligns customer and shareholder interests. In Washington, where we recover 100 percent of our actual gas purchase costs from customers, there has been no change to the PGA mechanism (see Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersRate MechanismsPurchased Gas Adjustment, below).
Economic weakness and financial market stress. The overall weakness in the U.S. economy, including disruption in the global credit and financial markets, increasing numbers of foreclosures and bankruptcies, lower rates of new housing construction, and volatility in energy prices, has resulted in significant negative pressure on consumer demand and business spending. These conditions could have a negative impact on our financial results including certain key performance measures such as margins, customer growth rates, bad debt expense, and net interest charges. Our customer growth rate, which in recent years has slowed but continues at a rate above the national average, declined to 1.6 percent during 2008 compared to 2.4 percent in 2007. Based on current market conditions, we expect customer growth rates in 2009 to continue at or near 2008 levels, or possibly lower if economic conditions deteriorate further, but our growth rate should remain above the national average due to a relatively low market penetration of natural gas in our service territory, the forecasted population growth in our service territory, the potential for environmental initiatives in Oregon and Washington that could favor natural gas as an energy source, and our efforts to convert existing homes from other heating fuels to natural gas.
Our funding for strategic investment opportunities is dependent upon our ability to access capital markets and maintain working capital sufficient to meet operating requirements. We intend to continue focusing on: maintaining a strong balance sheet; providing sufficient liquidity resources; monitoring and managing critical business risks; and securing, as needed, proceeds from the issuance of equity or long-term debt securities in order to fund utility and business development capital expenditures. To help mitigate the effect of the negative economic and capital market trends referred to
above, we expect to manage costs, extend short-term debt maturities, maintain higher cash balances, increase the aggregate commitment amount under existing or new credit facilities as needed, and access capital markets to secure proceeds from the issuance of long-term securities for capital expenditure requirements. If we are unable to secure financing to fund certain strategic opportunities, we may look at potentially re-prioritizing the use of existing resources or consider delaying investments until market conditions improve.
We believe that, despite the current economic and credit market environment, our financial condition, including our liquidity position, is strong and we can access capital at reasonable costs. See Part I, Item 1A., Risk Factors, above and Financial ConditionLiquidity and Capital Resources, below.
Business Process Improvements. To address our economic and competitive challenges, we intend to re-assess business processes for continuous improvements. Our goal is to integrate, consolidate and streamline operations and support our employees with new technology tools that enable us to become more effective and efficient. In 2008, we implemented the first phase of our new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, and in February 2009 we implemented the second phase. This new ERP system provides a comprehensive suite of business application software that interfaces with our existing customer information and automated dispatching systems. We expect this new ERP system to improve overall operating efficiencies by automating:
In 2006, we automated the reading of gas meters on approximately one-third of our customers meters. The meters equipped with this technology now electronically transmit usage data to receiving devices located in our vehicles as they are driven in the area, substantially reducing the labor costs associated with manually reading those customer meters. In 2008, we initiated a project to automate the reading of gas meters (AMR) for our remaining customers. The capital cost of this project is estimated to be $30 million, and in January 2009 we filed for regulatory recovery of this investment. Also in 2008, we initiated an automated dispatching system, which provides integrated planning and scheduling with global positioning system capabilities to more effectively collect and distribute data. These technology investments and other initiatives are expected to facilitate process improvements and contribute to long-term operational efficiencies throughout NW Natural.
Pipeline Diversification. Currently, we depend on a single interstate pipeline company to ship gas supplies to our system. Palomar Gas Transmission, LLC, (Palomar) is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Palomar Gas Holdings, LLC, (PGH). PGH is owned 50 percent by NW Natural and 50 percent by TransCanada Gas Transmission Northwests (GTN). Palomar is seeking to build and operate a 217-mile natural gas transmission pipeline in Oregon to serve our utility and the growing markets in Oregon and other parts of the western United States. The Palomar pipeline would extend west from an interconnection with GTNs existing interstate transmission mainline near Madras, Oregon to an interconnection with NW Naturals gas distribution system near Molalla, Oregon and then extend further west to additional interconnections including a possible connection to one of the several liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals proposed to be built on the Columbia River. Palomar would
diversify NW Naturals delivery options and enhance the reliability of service to our utility customers by providing an alternate transportation path for gas purchases from different regions in western Canada and the U.S. Rocky Mountains. Palomar would also provide our utility customers with access to a new source of gas supply if an LNG terminal is built on the Columbia River. The Palomar pipeline would be regulated by the FERC. In December 2008, Palomar filed for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity with the FERC.
Palomar continues to work on the planning and permitting phase of the project, which is expected to extend through 2010. The total cost for planning and permitting is estimated to be between $40 million and $45 million, 50 percent of which is our investment based on our ownership interest. At December 31, 2008, the amount we had invested was $14.2 million. The total cost estimate for the entire 217-mile pipeline, if constructed, is estimated to be between $700 million and $800 million, with our current 50 percent share estimated at between approximately $350 million and $400 million. During 2009 and 2010, PGH will continue to evaluate market conditions and project status to determine if and when to proceed with construction of all or some portion of the project. Palomar has executed binding precedent agreements with shippers, including our own utility, for a majority of the current design capacity on the pipeline. These agreements also provide commitments of credit support to the project. We will continue to assess project risks and evaluate the project costs and fair value of our investment on a quarterly basis, including a valuation of the available credit support.
Gas Storage Development. In September 2007, we announced a joint project with Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) to develop an underground natural gas storage facility near Fresno, California. We formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, Gill Ranch, to plan, develop and operate the facility. In July 2008, Gill Ranch filed an application with the CPUC for a Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity. In December 2008, the CPUC indicated that our application qualified for a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which allows an expedited review process. We expect to establish the application review schedule with the CPUC early in 2009 and to receive a decision on our application by the end of 2009. Gill Ranch will become subject to CPUC regulation regarding various matters including, but not limited to, securities issuances, lien grants and sales of property. We estimate our share of the total cost of this project to be between $160 and $180 million. Our share represents 75 percent of the total cost of the initial phase of storage development for an estimated 20 Bcf of gas storage capacity and approximately 27 miles of gas transmission pipeline during the 2008 to 2010 period. The initial phase of gas storage at Gill Ranch is currently scheduled to be in-service by late 2010.
Earnings and Dividends
Net income was $69.5 million, or $2.61 per share, for the year ended December 31, 2008, compared to $74.5 million, or $2.76 per share, and $63.4 million, or $2.29 per share, for the years ended December 31, 2007 and 2006, respectively. Returns on equity for these three years were 11.4 percent, 12.5 percent and 10.7 percent, respectively.
2008 compared to 2007:
Factors contributing to decreased earnings were:
Partially offsetting the above factors were:
2007 compared to 2006:
Positive factors contributing to increased earnings were:
Partially offsetting the above positive factors were:
Dividends paid on our common stock were $1.52 a share in 2008, compared to $1.44 a share in 2007 and $1.39 a share in 2006. The current indicated annual dividend rate is $1.58 per share.
Application of Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates
In preparing our financial statements using generally accepted accounting principles in the United States of America (GAAP), management exercises judgment in the selection and application of
accounting principles, including making estimates and assumptions that affect reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenues, expenses and related disclosures in the financial statements. Management considers our critical accounting policies to be those which are most important to the representation of our financial condition and results of operations and which require managements most difficult and subjective or complex judgments, including accounting estimates that could result in materially different amounts if we reported under different conditions or used different assumptions. Our most critical estimates and judgments include accounting for:
Management has discussed the estimates and judgments used in the application of critical accounting policies with the Audit Committee of the Board. Within the context of our critical accounting policies and estimates, management is not aware of any reasonably likely events or circumstances that would result in materially different amounts being reported. For a description of recent accounting pronouncements that could have an impact on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows, see Note 1.
We are regulated by the OPUC and WUTC, which establish our utility rates and rules governing utility services provided to customers, and, to a certain extent, set forth the accounting treatment for certain regulatory transactions. In general, we use the same accounting principles as non-regulated companies reporting under GAAP. However, certain accounting principles, primarily Statement of Financial Accounting Standards (SFAS) No. 71, Accounting for the Effects of Certain Types of Regulation, require different accounting treatment for regulated companies to show the effects of such regulation. For example, we account for the cost of gas using a PGA deferral and cost recovery mechanism, which is submitted for approval annually to the OPUC and WUTC (see Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersRate Mechanisms, below). There are other expenses or revenues that the OPUC or WUTC may require us to defer for recovery or refund in future periods. SFAS No. 71 requires us to account for these types of deferred expenses (or deferred revenues) as regulatory assets (or regulatory liabilities) on the balance sheet. When we are allowed to recover these expenses from or required to refund them to customers, we recognize the expense or revenue on the income statement at the same time we realize the adjustment to amounts included in utility rates charged to customers.
The conditions we must satisfy to adopt the accounting policies and practices of SFAS No. 71, which are applicable to regulated companies, include:
We continue to apply SFAS No. 71 in accounting for our regulated utility operations. Future regulatory changes or changes in the competitive environment could require us to discontinue the
application of SFAS No. 71 for some or all of our regulated businesses. This would require the write-off of those regulatory assets and liabilities that would no longer be probable of recovery from or refund to customers. Based on current regulatory and competitive conditions, we believe that it is reasonable to expect continued application of SFAS No. 71 for our regulated activities, and that all of our regulatory assets and liabilities at December 31, 2008 and 2007 are recoverable or refundable through future customer rates. See Note 1, Industry Regulation.
Utility revenues, derived primarily from the sale and transportation of natural gas, are recognized when gas is delivered to and received by the customer. Revenues are accrued for gas delivered to customers, but not yet billed, based on estimates of gas deliveries from the last meter reading date to month end (accrued unbilled revenues). Accrued unbilled revenues are primarily based on a percentage estimate of our unbilled gas deliveries each month, which is dependent upon a number of factors, some of which require managements judgment. These factors include total gas receipts and deliveries, customer meter reading dates, customer usage patterns and weather. Accrued unbilled revenue estimates are reversed the following month when actual billings occur. Estimated unbilled revenues at December 31, 2008 and 2007 were $102.7 million and $78.0 million, respectively. The increase in accrued unbilled revenues at year-end 2008 was primarily due to higher volumes reflecting colder weather and higher gas prices included in customer rates. If the estimated percentage of unbilled volume at December 31, 2008 was adjusted up or down by 1 percent, then our unbilled revenues, net operating revenues and net income would have increased or decreased by an estimated $4.4 million, $0.4 million and $0.4 million, respectively.
Utility revenues may also include the recognition of a regulatory adjustment for income taxes paid. This revenue adjustment reflects an OPUC rule whereby we are required to implement a rate refund or a rate surcharge to utility customers. This refund or surcharge is accrued based on the estimated difference between income taxes paid and income taxes authorized to be collected in rates for the tax year (see Results of OperationsBusiness Segments Utility OperationsRegulatory Adjustment for Income Taxes Paid, below).
Non-utility revenues, derived primarily from our gas storage business segment, are recognized upon delivery of the service to customers. Revenues from asset optimization, which are included in our gas storage segment, are recognized when services are provided by the independent energy marketing company in accordance with our contractual agreement. Our current asset optimization agreement includes guaranteed amounts which are recognized pro-rata on a monthly basis over the contract term.
Accounting for Derivative Instruments and Hedging Activities
Our financial derivatives and gas acquisition policies set forth guidelines for using financial derivative instruments to support prudent risk management strategies. These policies specifically prohibit the use of derivatives for trading or speculative purposes. The accounting rules for determining whether a contract meets the definition of a derivative instrument or qualifies for hedge accounting treatment are complex. The contracts that meet the definition of a derivative instrument are recorded on our balance sheet at fair value. If certain regulatory conditions are met, then the fair value is recorded together with an offsetting entry to a regulatory asset or liability account pursuant to SFAS No. 71 (see Note 1, Industry Regulation), and no gain or loss is recognized in current income. The gain or loss from the fair value of a derivative instrument that is subject to regulatory deferral is
included in the recovery from, or refund to, utility customers in future periods (see Regulatory Accounting, above). If a derivative contract is not subject to regulatory deferral, then the accounting treatment for gains and losses is recorded in accordance with SFAS No. 133, Accounting for Derivative Instruments and Hedging Activities, as amended by SFAS No. 138 and SFAS No. 149, collectively referred to as SFAS No. 133 (see Note 1, Derivatives and Industry Regulation). Derivative contracts outstanding at December 31, 2008 were measured at fair value using models or other market accepted valuation methodologies derived from observable market data. The estimate of fair value may change significantly from period-to-period depending on market conditions and prices. These changes may have an impact on our results of operations, but the impact would largely be mitigated due to the majority of our derivatives activities being subject to regulatory deferral treatment. For estimated fair values on unrealized gains and losses at December 31, 2008 and 2007, see Note 11.
Commodity-based derivative contracts entered into by the utility after our annual PGA filing for the current gas contract period are subject to a regulatory incentive sharing mechanism in Oregon (see Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersRate MechanismsPurchased Gas Adjustment, below). The portion not deferred to a regulatory account pursuant to that sharing agreement is recognized either in current income for contracts not qualifying for hedge accounting or in other comprehensive income for contracts qualifying for hedge accounting. Our interest rate swap qualifies for hedge accounting under SFAS No. 133, assuming the swap is highly effective.
Derivative hedge contracts are subject to a hedge effectiveness test to determine the financial statement treatment of each specific derivative. As of December 31, 2008, all of our derivatives were effective economic hedges and either qualified or were expected to qualify for regulatory deferral or hedge accounting treatment. We use the hypothetical derivative method under SFAS No. 133 to determine the hedge effectiveness of our interest rate swap which qualifies as a cash flow hedge. We extended the effective date of our interest rate swap from December 1, 2008 to April 1, 2009 which resulted in an ineffectiveness of $1.5 million. In accordance with SFAS No. 71, we have reclassified this amount to regulatory assets. The ineffectiveness for all other derivative contracts is determined using the dollar offset method under SFAS No. 133. The effectiveness test applied to financial derivatives is dependent on the type of derivative and its use.
The following table summarizes the amount of realized gains and losses from commodity price and currency hedge transactions for the last three years:
Realized gains (losses) from commodity hedges and foreign currency forward purchase contracts are recorded as reductions (increases) to the cost of gas and are included in the calculation of annual PGA rate changes. Realized gains (losses) from interest rate hedges are recorded as reductions (increases) to interest charges over the term of the underlying debt issuances. Unrealized gains and losses from commodity hedges, foreign currency contracts and interest rate hedges, which reflect quarterly mark-to-market valuations, are generally not recognized in current income or other comprehensive income, but are recorded as regulatory liabilities or regulatory assets, and are offset by a corresponding balance in non-trading derivative assets or liabilities (see Note 11).
Accounting for Pensions
We maintain two qualified non-contributory defined benefit pension plans covering a majority of our regular employees with more than one year of service, several non-qualified supplemental pension plans for eligible executive officers and certain key employees and other employee postretirement benefit plans. Only the two qualified defined benefit pension plans have plan assets, which are held in a qualified trust to fund retirement benefits. Effective January 1, 2007, the Retirement Plan for Non-Bargaining Unit Employees and the Welfare Benefits Plan for Non-Bargaining Unit Employees were closed to anyone hired or rehired. Instead, non-bargaining unit employees hired or re-hired after December 31, 2006 are provided an enhanced Retirement K Savings Plan benefit. Benefits provided to bargaining unit employees under the retirement plan for bargaining unit employees were not affected by these changes.
Net periodic pension costs (pension costs) and projected benefit obligations (benefit obligations) are determined in accordance with SFAS No. 87, Employers Accounting for Pensions, using a number of key assumptions including discount rates, rate of compensation increases, retirement ages, mortality rates and the expected long-term return on plan assets (see Note 7). These key assumptions have a significant impact on the amounts reported. Pension costs consist of service costs, interest costs, the amortization of actuarial gains, losses and prior service costs, the expected returns on plan assets and, in part, on a market-related valuation of assets. The market-related valuation reflects differences between expected returns and actual investment returns, which are recognized over a three-year period from the year in which they occur, thereby reducing year-to-year volatility in pension costs.
SFAS No. 158, Employers Accounting for Defined Benefit Pension and Other Postretirement Plans, requires balance sheet recognition of the overfunded or underfunded status of pension plans in accumulated other comprehensive income (AOCI), net of tax, based on the fair value of plan assets compared to the actuarial value of future benefit obligations. However, the pension costs relating to certain NW Natural pension plans are recovered in utility rates based on SFAS No. 87, and as such we received regulatory approval from the OPUC pursuant to SFAS No. 71 to record the overfunded or underfunded status as a regulatory asset or regulatory liability, rather than including it as AOCI under common equity (see Regulatory Accounting, above, and Note 1, Industry Regulation).
A number of factors are considered in developing pension assumptions, including evaluations of relevant discount rates, an evaluation of expected long-term investment returns based on asset classes and target asset allocations, and expected changes in salaries and wages, analyses of past retirement plan experience and current market conditions and input from actuaries and other consultants. For the December 31, 2008 measurement date, we reviewed and updated:
At December 31, 2008, our net pension liability (benefit obligations minus market value of plan assets) for the two qualified defined benefit plans increased by $96.6 million compared to 2007. Poor equity and bond market performance had a significant impact on the fair value of plan assets resulting in the large increase in our unfunded pension liability. Changes in valuation assumptions impact our benefit obligations. Benefit obligations at December 31, 2008 increased $7.4 million due to a decrease in our discount rate assumptions and increased by $5.0 million due to updating our mortality tables.
We determine the expected long-term rate of return on plan assets by averaging the expected earnings for the target asset portfolio. In developing our expected rate of return assumption, we evaluate an analysis of historical actual performance and long-term return projections, which gives consideration to the current asset mix and our target asset allocation. As of December 31, 2008, the actual annualized returns on plan assets, net of management fees, for the past one-year, five-years, 10-years and since December 1980 were (27.18) percent, 1.82 percent, 2.97 percent and 10.10 percent, respectively.
We believe our pension assumptions to be appropriate based on plan design and an assessment of market conditions. However, the following shows the sensitivity of our pension costs and benefit obligations to future changes in certain actuarial assumptions:
The impact of a change in pension costs on operating results would be less than the amounts shown above because only between 60 and 70 percent of our pension costs is charged to operations and maintenance expense. The remaining 30 to 40 percent is capitalized to construction accounts as payroll overhead and included in utility plant, which is amortized to expense over the useful life of the asset placed into service.
Accounting for Income Taxes
We account for income taxes in accordance with SFAS No. 109, Accounting for Income Taxes, and Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) Interpretation No. 48 (FIN 48), Accounting for Uncertainty in Income Taxes, an Interpretation of SFAS No. 109, Accounting for Income Taxes, which require that deferred tax assets and liabilities be recognized using enacted tax rates for the effect of temporary differences between the book and tax basis of recorded assets and liabilities. SFAS No. 109 and FIN 48 also require that deferred tax assets be reduced by a valuation allowance if it is more likely than not that some portion or all of the deferred tax asset will not be realized. Our net long-term deferred tax liability totaled $257.8 million at December 31, 2008. This liability is estimated based on the expected future tax consequences of items recognized in the financial statements. After application of the federal statutory tax rate to book income, judgment is required with respect to the timing and deductibility of expense in our tax returns. For state income tax and other taxes, judgment is also required with respect to the apportionment among the various jurisdictions. A valuation allowance is recorded if we expect that it is more likely than not that our deferred tax assets will not be realized. At December 31, 2008, we did not have a valuation allowance due to our expectation that all of these assets will be realized.
SFAS No. 109 also requires the recognition of additional deferred income tax assets and liabilities for temporary differences where regulators require us to flow through deferred income tax benefits or expenses in the ratemaking process of the regulated utility (regulatory tax assets and liabilities). This is consistent with the ratemaking policies of the OPUC and WUTC. Regulatory tax assets and liabilities are recorded to the extent we believe they will be recoverable from, or refunded to, customers in future rates. At December 31, 2008 and 2007, we had regulatory assets representing differences between book and tax basis related to pre-1981 property of $69.9 million and $68.6 million, respectively, and recorded an offsetting deferred tax liability for the same amounts (see Note 1, Income Tax Expense). We received authorization from the OPUC and WUTC in 2008 to accelerate the recovery of these pre-1981 regulatory assets through future utility rates (see Regulatory Accounting, above, and Notes 1 and 8).
Loss contingencies are recorded as liabilities when it is probable that a liability has been incurred and the amount of the loss is reasonably estimable in accordance with SFAS No. 5, Accounting for Contingencies. Estimates of loss contingencies, including estimates of legal defense costs when such costs are probable of being incurred and are reasonably estimable, and related disclosures are updated when new information becomes available. Estimating probable losses requires an analysis of uncertainties that often depend upon judgments about potential actions by third parties. Accruals for loss contingencies are recorded based on an analysis of potential results. When information is sufficient to estimate only a range of potential liabilities, and no point within the range is more likely than any other, we recognize an accrued liability at the low end of the range and disclose the range (see Contingent Liabilities, below). It is possible, however, that the range of potential liabilities could be significantly different than amounts currently accrued and disclosed, with the result that our financial condition and results of operations could be materially affected by changes in the assumptions or estimates related to these contingencies.
With respect to environmental liabilities and related costs we develop estimates based on a review of information available from recently completed studies and negotiations involving several sites. Using sampling data, feasibility studies, existing technology and enacted laws and regulations, we estimate that the total future expenditures for environmental investigation, monitoring and remediation are $35.9 million as of December 31, 2008. It is our policy to accrue the full amount of such liability when information is sufficient to reasonably estimate the amount of probable liability. When information is not available to reasonably estimate the probable liability, or when only the range of probable liabilities can be estimated and no amount within the range is more likely than another, then it is our policy to accrue at the lower end of the range. Accordingly, due to numerous uncertainties surrounding the course of environmental remediation and the preliminary nature of several site investigations, the range of potential loss beyond the amounts currently accrued, and the probabilities thereof, cannot be reasonably estimated. Therefore, we have recorded the liabilities at an amount that reflects the most likely estimate or the low end of the range.
We will continue to seek recovery of such costs through insurance and through customer rates, and we believe recovery of these costs is probable. If it is determined that both the insurance recovery and future rate recovery of such costs are not probable, the costs will be charged to expense in the period such determination is made (see Note 12).
Results of Operations
Regulation and Rates
We are subject to regulation with respect to, among other matters, rates and systems of accounts by the OPUC, WUTC and FERC. The OPUC and WUTC also regulate our issuance of securities. In 2008, approximately 90 percent of our utility gas volumes were delivered to, and utility operating revenues were derived from, Oregon customers and the balance from Washington customers. Future earnings and cash flows from utility operations will be determined largely by the Oregon and Washington economies in general, and by the pace of growth in the residential and commercial markets in particular, and by our ability to remain price competitive, control expenses, and obtain reasonable and timely regulatory recovery for our utility gas costs, operating and maintenance costs and investments made in utility plant.
General Rate Cases
Oregon. In our most recent general rate increase in Oregon, which was effective September 1, 2003, the OPUC authorized rates to customers based on a return on shareholders equity (ROE) of 10.2 percent. In 2007, in connection with the renewal of our conservation tariff and weather normalization rate mechanism, the OPUC approved a stipulation that restricts us from filing a general rate case with the OPUC prior to September 1, 2011, subject to certain exceptions. Under the agreement, we would be allowed to file a general rate case if an extraordinary event occurs or significant investments are required on behalf of our customers and we are unable to reach agreement regarding alternative forms of cost recovery outside of a general rate case. These exceptions might include additional investments in our pipeline integrity management program. This agreement does not impact our ability to file annual rate adjustments to reflect changes in gas purchase costs under our PGA mechanism or our ability to collect or refund prior years gas cost deferrals. See Rate MechanismsPurchased Gas Adjustment, below.
Washington. In December 2008, an all-party stipulated agreement regarding our Washington general rate case was approved by the WUTC. As part of the stipulation, the WUTC authorized rates to our customers based on a ROE of 10.1 percent, which was consistent with a rate of return on total long-term capitalization of 8.4 percent. These new customer rates went into effect on January 1, 2009. Under these new rates, our annual revenue requirements will increase by approximately $2.7 million, or 3 percent. Although we agreed not to file another general rate case in Washington before January 2010, the parties agreed that we may file separately for a decoupling mechanism upon completion of a trial program currently being conducted by another utility, which is expected to be completed during 2009.
Federal. We are required under our Mist interstate storage certificate authority and rate approval orders to file every three years either a petition for rate approval or a cost and revenue study to change or justify maintaining the existing rates for our interstate storage services. We filed a cost and revenue study and an associated petition for rate approval in April 2008. As a result of that proceeding, the current maximum cost-based rates for our interstate gas storage services were approved by FERC in August 2008, with our maximum rates unchanged from the levels approved by FERC in 2005. The maximum cost-based rates are designed to reflect updated costs related to the further development of the Mist gas storage facility from 2005 to 2008. Additionally, we made a filing
in December 2008 to obtain FERC approval to revise the depreciation rates associated with Mist assets used to derive the cost-based interstate storage rates. In that proceeding, which is currently pending, we are requesting FERC approval to revise the depreciation rates used for the Mist interstate storage services to match the depreciation rates for the same assets that were recently adjusted under state regulation. We do not expect the approval of these new depreciation rates to have a material impact on our maximum rates approved by FERC, or any immediate impact on the actual rates currently charged to interstate storage customers.
Purchased Gas Adjustment. Rate changes are established each year under PGA mechanisms in Oregon and Washington to reflect changes in the expected cost of natural gas commodity purchases, including contractual arrangements to hedge the purchase price with financial derivatives, interstate pipeline demand charges, the application of temporary rate adjustments to amortize balances in deferred regulatory accounts and the removal of temporary rate adjustments effective for the previous year.
In October 2008, the OPUC and WUTC approved rate changes effective on November 1, 2008 under our PGA mechanisms. The effect of the rate changes was to increase the average monthly bills of Oregon residential customers by 14 percent and those of Washington residential customers by 21 percent.
Additionally, in October 2008, the OPUC approved changes to our PGA incentive sharing mechanism. Under the Oregon PGA mechanism, we collect an amount for purchased gas costs based on estimates included in rates. If the actual purchased gas costs differ from the estimated amounts included in rates, then we are required to defer that difference and pass it on to customers as an adjustment to future rates. Under the prior Oregon PGA incentive sharing mechanism effective through October 31, 2008, 67 percent of the difference was to be deferred such that the impact on current earnings is either a charge to expense for 33 percent of the higher cost of gas sold, or a credit to expense for 33 percent of the lower purchased gas costs.
Under the new Oregon PGA incentive sharing mechanism, effective November 1, 2008, we are required to select, by August 1 of each year, either an 80 percent deferral or 90 percent deferral of higher or lower gas costs such that the impact on current earnings from the gas cost sharing is either 20 percent or 10 percent, respectively. As was the case under the prior mechanism, we will be subject to an annual earnings review to evaluate the utilitys financial performance. Under both the prior and the new sharing mechanism, if earnings exceed a threshold level, then 33 percent of the amount above the threshold will be deferred for future refund to customers. Under the prior Oregon PGA incentive mechanism, effective through the end of October 2008, the deferral was 67 percent of gas cost differences and the threshold level was equal to our authorized ROE of 10.2 percent plus 300 basis points. Under the new mechanism, if we select the 80 percent deferral, we retain all of our earnings up to 150 basis points above the currently authorized ROE, or if we select the 90 percent deferral, we retain all of our earnings up to 100 basis points above the currently authorized ROE. For the PGA year in Oregon beginning on November 1, 2008, we selected the 80 percent deferral of gas cost differences. The earnings threshold is currently subject to adjustment up or down each year depending on movements in long-term interest rates.
In 2008 and 2007, the earnings threshold after adjustment for long-term interest rates was 13.1 percent and 13.4 percent, respectively. No amounts were required to be refunded to customers as a
result of the 2007 earnings review, and we do not expect that any amounts will be required to be refunded to customers as a result of the 2008 earnings review, which will be approved by the OPUC during the second quarter of 2009. There has been no change to the Washington PGA mechanism under which we defer 100 percent of the higher or lower actual purchased gas costs and pass that difference through to customers as an adjustment to future rates.
Conservation Tariff. In October 2002, the OPUC authorized the implementation of a conservation tariff, which is a rate mechanism designed to adjust margin for changes in consumption patterns due to residential and commercial customers conservation efforts. The tariff is a decoupling mechanism that is intended to break the link between utility earnings and the quantity of gas consumed by customers, removing any financial incentive by the utility to discourage customers conservation efforts. In Washington, customer use is not covered by a conservation tariff, and as such our utility earnings are affected by increases and decreases in usage based on customers conservation efforts. Washington customers account for about 10 percent of our utility revenues.
The Oregon conservation tariff includes two components: (1) a price elasticity adjustment, which adjusts rates annually for increases or decreases from expected customer volumes due to annual changes in commodity costs or periodic changes in our general rates; and (2) a conservation adjustment calculated on a monthly basis to account for the difference between actual and expected volumes (also referred to as the decoupling adjustment). The margin adjustment resulting from differences between actual and expected volumes under the decoupling component is recorded to a deferral account, which is included in the next years annual PGA filing. Baseline consumption was determined by customer consumption data used in the 2003 Oregon general rate case and is adjusted annually for customer growth and the effect of the price elasticity adjustment discussed above. See Results of OperationsComparison of Gas Distribution Operations, below.
In 2005, an independent study to measure the effectiveness of Oregons conservation tariff mechanism recommended continuation of the tariff with minor modifications, which the OPUC approved. In September 2007, the OPUC extended our conservation tariff through October 2012.
Weather Normalization. In Oregon, the OPUC approved our use of a weather normalization mechanism through October 2012. This mechanism is designed to help stabilize the collection of fixed costs by adjusting residential and commercial customer billings based on temperature variances from average weather, with rate decreases when the weather is colder than average and rate increases when the weather is warmer than average. The mechanism is applied to our residential and commercial customers bills between December 1 and May 15 of each heating season. The mechanism adjusts the margin component of customers rates to reflect average weather, which uses the 25-year average temperature for each day of the billing period. Daily average temperatures and 25-year average temperatures are based on a set point temperature of 59 degrees Fahrenheit for residential customers and 58 degrees Fahrenheit for commercial customers (see Comparison of Gas Distribution Operations, below). We do not have a weather normalization mechanism approved for our Washington customers, which account for about 10 percent of our utility revenues.
Regulatory and Insurance Recovery for Environmental Costs. In May 2003, the OPUC approved our request to defer unreimbursed environmental costs associated with certain named sites including those described in Note 12. Beginning in 2006, the OPUC authorized us to accrue interest on deferred environmental cost balances, subject to an annual demonstration that we have maximized our insurance recovery or made substantial progress in securing insurance recovery for unrecovered
environmental expenses. Through a series of extensions, this authorization has been extended through January 25, 2009. We have requested another extension through January 2010, and that request is currently pending. See Note 12.
Industrial Tariffs. In August 2006, the OPUC and WUTC approved tariff changes to the service options for our major industrial customers. The changes set forth additional parameters that give us more certainty in the level of gas supplies we will need to acquire to serve this customer group. The parameters include an annual election period, special pricing provisions for out-of-cycle changes and a requirement that customers on our annual weighted average cost of gas tariff complete the term of their service election.
System Integrity Program. In July 2004, the OPUC approved specific accounting treatment and cost recovery for our transmission pipeline integrity management program, a program mandated by the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002 and the related rules adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportations Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. We record these costs as either capital expenditures or regulatory assets, accumulate the costs over each 12 months ending September 30, and recover the costs, subject to audit, through rate changes effective with the annual PGA in Oregon. The rate treatment for these costs expired on September 30, 2008. In February 2009, the OPUC approved a stipulated agreement to create a new, consolidated system integrity program (SIP). The new SIP would integrate the older and the proposed programs into a single program. The SIP also includes a component for a proposed distribution integrity management program, which will be implemented following issuance of new federal regulations. Costs will be tracked into rates annually, with recovery to be sought after the first $3.3 million of capital costs which are our responsibility. An annual cap for expenditures will be approximately $12 million, with any extraordinary costs above the cap to be approved with written consent of all parties.
The SIP applies to costs incurred in Oregon during the period from October 2008 to October 2011, or until the effective date of new rates adopted in the companys next general rate case. We do not have any special accounting or rate treatment for pipeline integrity costs incurred in the state of Washington.
AMR Deferral Application. In 2006, we automated the reading of gas meters on approximately one-third of our customers meters. In 2008, we initiated a project to automate the reading of gas meters for our remaining customers. The capital cost of our AMR project is estimated to be $30 million, and in January 2009 we filed for approval to defer the costs associated with the AMR project. This request is pending before the OPUC. If the request for deferral accounting is approved, we will then seek approval to recover the deferred costs in our next PGA filing.
Depreciation Study. In December 2008, the OPUC and WUTC approved our filed depreciation study and our request to change the amortization of our regulatory asset account balance on pre-1981 plant. These approvals specifically authorized the implementation of new depreciation rates in Oregon and Washington, with corresponding decrease to customer rates effective January 1, 2009. The new amortization rates on pre-1981 plant, with a corresponding increase to customer rates, became effective January 1, 2009 in Washington and will be effective November 1, 2009 in Oregon. The implementation of these new rates will have the effect of decreasing depreciation expense and increasing effective income tax expense rates, both of which will be offset by a corresponding change in utility operating revenues. In addition, in December 2008 we filed our depreciation study with FERC requesting approval to apply these same new depreciation rates for our gas storage business assets. If approved, we expect the new depreciation rates to be effective as of January 1, 2009. Our FERC filing is currently pending.
Business Segments - Utility Operations
Our utility margin results are affected by customer growth and to a certain extent by changes in weather and customer consumption patterns, with a significant portion of our earnings being derived from natural gas sales to residential and commercial customers. In Oregon, we have a conservation tariff that adjusts revenues to offset changes in margin resulting from increases or decreases in residential and commercial customer consumption. We also have a weather normalization mechanism that adjusts customer bills up or down to offset changes in margin resulting from above- or below-average temperatures during the winter heating season (see Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersRate Mechanisms, above). Both mechanisms are designed to reduce the volatility of our utility earnings.
2008 compared to 2007:
Total utility margin decreased $14.3 million or 4 percent in 2008 compared to 2007 even though residential and commercial customers contributed an additional $7.1 million to margin in 2008, including the effects of the weather normalization and decoupling mechanisms. Total utility volumes sold and delivered in 2008 increased by 4 percent over last year due to the colder than average weather and 1.6 percent customer growth. The major factors contributing to the decline in utility margin were the $17.6 million swing in our regulatory share of higher gas costs, a $4.2 million decrease in regulatory adjustments for income taxes paid and a $1.6 million decrease in margin from industrial customers due to weaker economic conditions.
Our weather normalization mechanism offset residential and commercial margin gains by $15.3 million for the year ended December 31, 2008 based on weather that was 7 percent colder than average, compared to an offset increased residential and commercial margins of $2.5 million for the year ended December 31, 2007 based on weather that was 3 percent colder than average. Our decoupling mechanism offset $4.9 million of residential and commercial margin losses in 2008, after adjusting for price elasticity in the annual Oregon PGA filing, compared to a margin increase of $0.5 million in 2007.
2007 compared to 2006:
Total utility margin increased $24.6 million or 8 percent in 2007 compared to 2006 with residential and commercial customers contributing an additional $9.7 million to margin in 2007, including the effects of the weather normalization and decoupling mechanisms. The $1.0 million decrease in margin from industrial customers in 2007 was partially offset by a decrease in other margin adjustments from regulatory deferrals and amortizations and miscellaneous fees. Total utility volumes sold and delivered in 2007 were about the same as in 2006. An increase in our regulatory share of gas cost savings of $4.0 million and a regulatory adjustment related to income taxes paid of $6.0 million also contributed to the increase in margin (see Regulatory Adjustment for Income Taxes Paid, and Cost of Gas Sold, below).
Our weather normalization mechanism offset residential and commercial margin gains by $2.5 million for the year ended December 31, 2007 based on weather that was 3 percent colder than average, compared to an increase of $2.3 million in added margin for the year ended December 31, 2006 based on weather that was 4 percent warmer than average. The decoupling mechanism added $0.5 million to residential and commercial margin in 2007, after adjusting for price elasticity in the annual Oregon PGA filing, compared to a margin decrease of $2.6 million in 2006.
The following table summarizes the composition of gas utility volumes and revenues for the years ended December 31, 2008, 2007 and 2006:
Residential and Commercial Sales
Residential and commercial sales are impacted by customer growth, seasonal weather patterns, energy prices, competition from other energy sources and economic conditions in our service areas. Typically, 80 percent or more of our annual utility operating revenues are derived from gas sales to weather-sensitive residential and commercial customers. Although variations in temperatures between periods will affect volumes of gas sold to these customers, the effect on margin and net income is significantly reduced due to our weather normalization mechanism in Oregon where about 90 percent of our customers are served. Beginning in 2006, this mechanism became effective for the period from December 1 through May 15 of each heating season. Approximately 10 percent of our eligible Oregon customers have opted out of the mechanism. In Oregon, we also have a conservation decoupling mechanism that is intended to break the link between our earnings and the quantity of gas consumed by our customers, so that we do not have an incentive to encourage greater consumption contrary to customers energy conservation efforts. In Washington, where the remaining approximately 10 percent of our customers are served, we do not have a weather normalization or a conservation decoupling mechanism. As a result, we are not fully insulated from earnings volatility due to weather and conservation.
The primary factors that impact results of operations in the residential and commercial markets are customer growth, seasonal weather patterns, competition from other energy sources and economic conditions in our service territory.
2008 compared to 2007:
2007 compared to 2006:
Industrial Sales and Transportation
Industrial operating revenues include the commodity cost component of gas sold under sales service but not to transportation service. Therefore, industrial customer switching between sales service and transportation service can cause swings in operating revenues but generally our margins are not affected because we do not mark up the cost of gas. As such, we believe margin is a better
measure of performance for the industrial sector. The primary factors that impact results of operations in industrial sales and transportation markets are as follows:
2008 compared to 2007:
2007 compared to 2006:
Several large industrial customers transferred from sales service back to transportation service in 2008. High natural gas prices can result from time to time in a number of our large industrial customers switching from transportation service, where they arrange for their own supplies through independent third parties, to sales service, where we sell them the gas commodity under regulatory tariffs. In such cases, our tariff requires us to charge the incremental cost of gas supply incurred to serve those customers.
Regulatory Adjustment for Income Taxes Paid
The Oregon legislature passed legislation, effective January 1, 2006, to ensure that regulated utility operations do not collect in rates more money for income taxes than the utility actually pays to taxing authorities. Under this legislation, if we pay less in income taxes than we collect from our Oregon utility customers, or if our consolidated taxes paid are less than the taxes we collect from our Oregon utility customers, then we are required to record a refund due to our Oregon utility customers. Conversely, if we pay more income taxes than we actually collect from our Oregon utility customers, as set forth under our most recent general rate case, then we are required to record a surcharge due from our Oregon utility customers.
For the 2006 tax year, we filed to recover $1.7 million through a surcharge to our Oregon utility customers. This surcharge was primarily driven by higher income taxes paid on gains from gas cost savings from our PGA incentive sharing mechanism in 2006 and strong operating results. The OPUC
approved our filing, and we collected a total of $1.9 million, representing a surcharge of $1.7 million plus accrued interest of $0.2 million, from customers in June 2008. For the 2007 tax year, we filed to recover $5.5 million through a surcharge to our Oregon utility customers. We have reached an agreement in principle with OPUC Staff and other parties on that surcharge and are in the process of finalizing a stipulation and supporting documentation. We expect to collect a total of $6.4 million, representing a surcharge of $5.5 million plus accrued interest of $0.9 million. Again, this surcharge was primarily driven by higher income taxes paid on gains from gas cost savings from our PGA incentive mechanism in 2007. For the 2008 tax year, we anticipate that the difference between income taxes paid and the amounts collected in rates will be less than $100,000, and in accordance with the rules, we have not recorded any adjustment for this year. However, in 2008 we recognized a combined adjustment for the 2006 and 2007 tax years of $1.8 million, based on revised estimates of our 2006 and 2007 tax surcharges, representing $1.2 million plus accrued interest of $0.6 million.
Other revenues include miscellaneous fee income as well as revenue adjustments reflecting deferrals to, or amortizations from, regulatory asset or liability accounts other than deferrals relating to gas costs. Other revenues increased net operating revenues by $21.8 million in 2008, compared to $12.2 million in 2007 and $0.2 million in 2006.
2008 compared to 2007:
Other revenues in 2008 were $9.6 million higher than in 2007 primarily due to a $10.5 million refund to utility customers for the gas storage sharing mechanism revenues, partially offset by a $1.9 million surcharge for our rate adjustment for income taxes paid.
2007 compared to 2006:
Other revenues in 2007 were $12.1 million higher than in 2006 primarily due to a $3.1 million increase in deferrals under the decoupling mechanism (see Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersRate Mechanisms, above), a $6.1 million decrease in amortization expense related to the decoupling deferrals from prior periods, a $1.7 million increase in interstate gas storage credits to customers reflecting higher regulatory sharing of net income from storage operations and a decrease of $1.3 million in amortization expense related to demand side management deferrals.
Cost of Gas Sold
The cost of gas sold includes current gas purchases, gas drawn from storage inventory, gains and losses from commodity hedges, pipeline demand charges, seasonal demand cost balancing adjustments, regulatory gas cost deferrals and company gas use. Our regulated utility does not generally earn a profit or incur a loss on gas commodity purchases. The OPUC and the WUTC require the natural gas commodity cost to be billed to customers at the same cost incurred or expected to be incurred by the utility. However, under the PGA mechanism in Oregon, our net income is affected by differences between actual and expected purchased gas costs primarily due to market fluctuations and volatility affecting unhedged purchases (see Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersRate MechanismsPurchased Gas Adjustment, above). We use natural gas derivatives, primarily fixed-price commodity swaps, under the terms of our financial derivatives policies to help manage our exposure to rising gas prices. Gains and losses from financial hedge contracts are generally included in our PGA prices and normally do not impact net income as the hedges are usually 100 percent passed
through to customers in annual rate changes, subject to a regulatory prudency review. However, utility gas hedges entered into after the annual PGA filing in Oregon may impact net income to the extent of our share of any gain or loss under the PGA. In Washington, 100 percent of the actual gas costs, including hedge gains and losses, are passed through in customer rates (see Application of Critical Accounting Policies and EstimatesAccounting for Derivative Instruments and Hedging Activities, and Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersRate MechanismsPurchased Gas Adjustment, above, and Note 11).
2008 compared to 2007:
2007 compared to 2006:
For the year ended December 31, 2008, our actual gas costs were higher than the gas costs embedded in rates, while during the same period in 2007 and 2006 our actual gas costs were significantly lower than gas costs embedded in rates. The effect on shareholders from the gas cost incentive sharing was a margin gain of $12.1 million and $8.1 million in 2007 and 2006, respectively, compared to a margin loss of $5.5 million in 2008. For a discussion of the change in our Oregon gas cost sharing incentive mechanism, effective November 1, 2008, see Results of OperationsRegulatory MattersRate MechanismsPurchased Gas Adjustment, above.
Business Segments Other than Utility Operations
Our gas storage segment primarily consists of the non-utility portion of our Mist underground storage facility, asset optimization and Gill Ranch. In 2008, we earned $8.4 million, or 31 cents per share, from our gas storage business segment, after regulatory sharing and income taxes. This compares to net income of $8.5 million, or 32 cents per share, in 2007 and $6.0 million, or 21 cents per share, in 2006. Earnings in 2008 and 2007 were higher than 2006 primarily because of increased revenues from additional contract storage and higher margins from optimization services under a contract with an independent energy marketing company.
In Oregon, we retain 80 percent of the pre-tax income from gas storage services as well as from optimization services when the costs of the capacity being used is not included in utility rates, or 33 percent of the pre-tax income from such storage and optimization services when the capacity being used is included in utility rates. The remaining 20 percent and 67 percent, respectively, are credited to a deferred regulatory account for refund to our core utility customers. We have a similar sharing
mechanism in Washington for pre-tax income derived from gas storage and optimization services. We are currently in the process of developing a second underground storage facility, Gill Ranch, and related pipeline near Fresno, California. Our Gill Ranch project is expected to serve the California and west coast market. See Note 2.
Our other business segment consists of Financial Corporation, an equity investment in Palomar and other non-utility investments and business activities. Financial Corporations equity balance as of December 31, 2008 and 2007 was $1.3 million and $1.4 million, respectively, and our equity balance in the proposed Palomar transmission pipeline was $14.2 million and $6.0 million, respectively. In 2008 and 2007, we sold the last of our non-core assets, resulting in after-tax gains of $1.1 million and $0.9 million, respectively. The remaining investment balance at Financial Corporation reflects a non-controlling interest in the Kelso Beaver pipeline. The current equity balance in Palomar reflects our investment to date in a proposed 217-mile transmission pipeline.
Net income from our other business segment for the years ended December 31, 2008, 2007 and 2006 was $2.4 million, $1.1 million and $0.8 million, respectively. The increase in 2008 compared to 2007 reflects the gain on sale of our investment in a Boeing 737-300 aircraft and income from our equity investment in Palomar. The increase in 2007 over 2006 reflects the sale of our limited partnership interest in two wind power electric generation projects in California. See Note 2.
Operations and Maintenance
Operations and maintenance expenses decreased by $7.1 million in 2008, or 6 percent, compared to 2007. In 2007 operations and maintenance expense included additional costs for strategic initiatives. Operations and maintenance expense increased $5.9 million in 2007, or 5 percent, compared to 2006, also reflecting higher expenditures for strategic initiatives in 2007. The following summarizes the major factors that contributed to changes in operations and maintenance expense:
2008 compared to 2007:
Partially offsetting the above decreases were:
2007 compared to 2006:
Partially offsetting the above increases was:
General taxes, which are principally comprised of property and payroll taxes and regulatory fees, increased $1.4 million, or 5 percent, in 2008 compared to 2007, and increased $0.9 million, or 4 percent, in 2007 compared to 2006. The major factors that contributed to changes in general taxes are:
2008 compared to 2007:
2007 compared to 2006:
We have been involved in litigation with the Oregon Department of Revenue (ODOR) over whether natural gas inventories and appliance inventories held for resale are required to be taxed as personal property. In November 2007, the Oregon Tax Court ruled in our favor stating that these inventories were exempt from property tax. However, the ODOR appealed the judgment to the Oregon Supreme Court in August 2008. If we are successful in this litigation, we would be entitled to a refund of over $5.0 million for property taxes paid on inventories beginning with the 2002-2003 tax year, plus accrued interest. Due to the uncertain outcome of the proceeding, we have not recorded the recovery of property taxes paid on gas inventories or appliance inventories to recognize the potential gain contingency.
Depreciation and Amortization
The following table summarizes the increases in total plant and property and total depreciation and amortization for the three years ended December 31:
Total depreciation and amortization expense increased by $3.8 million, or 6 percent, in 2008 and by $3.9 million, or 6 percent, in 2007. The increased expense for both years is primarily due to additional investments in utility plant to meet continuing customer growth and to make system improvements (see Financial ConditionCash FlowsInvesting Activities, below, and Note 9). New depreciation rates were approved by the OPUC and WUTC, effective January 1, 2009 (see Regulatory MattersRate MechanismsDepreciation Study, above).
Other Income and ExpenseNet
The following table provides details on other income and expense net for the last three years:
2008 compared to 2007:
Other income and expensenet increased by $2.3 million in 2008 over 2007. The increase was primarily due to an increase of $1.1 million in other non-operating income (expense), reflecting the
additional start-up expenses in 2007 for business development and other strategic initiatives, and by a $0.2 million increase from gain on sale of investments, reflecting the gains on sales of the aircraft in 2008 and the two wind power electric generation projects in 2007, and a $0.5 million increase in income from equity investments, primarily related to Palomar.
2007 compared to 2006:
Other income and expensenet declined by $0.7 million in 2007 over 2006. The decline was primarily due to a decrease of $0.7 million in gains from company-owned life insurance, reflecting lower policy benefits realized during 2007, and a net increase of $1.9 million in other non-operating expenses, reflecting expenses for business development and other strategic initiatives. These negative changes were partially offset by an increase in earnings from equity investments of Financial Corporation of $1.5 million, reflecting the gain on sale of its limited partnership interests in two wind power electric generation projects, and an increase of $0.3 million in net interest charges on deferred regulatory accounts, reflecting lower net credit balances outstanding in these accounts.
Interest ChargesNet of Amounts Capitalized
Interest chargesnet of amounts capitalized in 2008 decreased by $0.2 million, or less than 1 percent, compared to 2007, reflecting lower balances on long-term debt outstanding due to the redemption of $5 million of medium-term notes (MTNs) in July 2008, with increased costs due to higher short-term debt balances offset by lower interest rates on short-term debt. In 2007, interest chargesnet of amounts capitalized was $1.4 million, or 4 percent, lower than in 2006, reflecting lower balances on long-term debt outstanding due to the redemption of $20 million of MTNs in March 2007 and $9.5 million of MTNs in May 2007. The average interest crediting rate for the allowance for funds used during construction, comprised of short-term and long-term borrowing rates, as appropriate, was 3.6 percent in 2008, 5.4 percent in 2007 and 4.7 percent in 2006.
Income Tax Expense
The decrease in income tax expense of $3.4 million or 8 percent in 2008, compared to 2007 was primarily due to lower consolidated earnings and a slightly lower effective tax rate of 36.9 percent in 2008 compared to 37.2 percent in 2007. The decrease in our effective tax rate was primarily the result of a higher non-taxable gain on company-owned life insurance. Income tax expense increased by $7.8 million or 22 percent in 2007, as compared to total income tax expense of $36.2 million in 2006, and the effective tax rate increased slightly from an effective rate of 36.4 percent in 2006. For more information on our income taxes, including a reconciliation between the statutory federal income tax rate and the effective rate, see Note 1 and Note 8.
Our goal is to maintain a strong consolidated capital structure, generally consisting of 45 to 50 percent common stock equity and 50 to 55 percent long-term and short-term debt. When additional capital is required, debt or equity securities are issued depending upon both the target capital structure and market conditions. These sources also are used to fund long-term debt redemption requirements and short-term commercial paper maturities (see Liquidity and Capital Resources, below, and Notes 5 and 6). Achieving the target capital structure and maintaining sufficient liquidity to meet operating
requirements are necessary to maintain attractive credit ratings and have access to capital markets at reasonable costs. Our consolidated capital structure was as follows:
Liquidity and Capital Resources
At December 31, 2008, we had $6.9 million of cash and cash equivalents compared to $6.1 million at December 31, 2007. Short-term liquidity is provided by cash balances, internal cash flow from operations, proceeds from the sale of commercial paper notes, unsecured credit facilities, including multi-year commitments which are primarily used to back-up commercial paper (see Credit Agreement, below), an ability to borrow from cash surrender value in company-owned life insurance policies, and proceeds from the sale of long-term debt. We use long-term debt proceeds to finance capital expenditures and refinance maturing short-term or long-term debt.
Our senior long-term debt ratings are AA- and A2 from S&P and Moodys, respectively, while our short-term debt ratings are A-1+ and P-1 from S&P and Moodys, respectively. The capital markets, including the commercial paper market, have experienced significant volatility and tight credit conditions in recent months, as reflected by increased spreads and limited access to new financing. As a result of these market conditions, we delayed a planned fourth quarter 2008 debt issuance until the first quarter of 2009. In lieu of the delayed debt issuance, we entered into two $15 million bilateral bank lines of credit with maturities of one and three months, and borrowed from corporate-owned life insurance policies to provide added liquidity. With our current debt ratings we have been able to issue commercial paper notes at attractive rates and have not had to borrow from our $250 million back-up facility. In the event that we are not able to issue commercial paper or other debt instruments due to market conditions, we expect that our liquidity needs can be met by using cash balances or drawing upon our committed credit facility (see Credit Agreements, below). We also have a universal shelf registration statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the issuance of secured and unsecured debt or equity securities, market conditions permitting.
In the event that our senior secured long-term debt credit ratings are downgraded below investment grade, our counterparties under derivative contracts could require us to post cash, a letter of credit or other form of collateral, which could expose us to additional costs and may trigger significant increases in draws from our borrowing facilities.
Based on our current credit ratings, our experience with issuing commercial paper, our current cash reserves, the availability and size of our committed credit facilities and our ability to issue long-term debt and equity securities under the universal shelf registration statement, we believe our liquidity is sufficient to meet our anticipated cash requirements, including the contractual obligations and investing and financing activities discussed below.
We have paid quarterly dividends on our common stock in each year since the stock was first issued to the public in 1951. Annual common dividend payments per share, adjusted for stock splits, have increased each year since 1956. The amount and timing of dividends payable on our common
stock is within the sole discretion of our Board of Directors. Our Board of Directors expects to continue paying cash dividends on common stock on a quarterly basis. However, the declarations and amount of future dividends will be dependent upon our earnings, cash flows, financial condition and other factors.
Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements
Except for certain lease and purchase commitments (see Contractual Obligations, below), we have no material off-balance sheet financing arrangements.
The following table shows our contractual obligations at December 31, 2008 by maturity and type of obligation.
Other purchase commitments primarily consist of remaining balances under existing purchase orders. These and other contractual obligations are financed through cash from operations and from the issuance of short-term debt, which is periodically refinanced through the sale of long-term debt or equity securities.
Holders of one long-term debt issue have a put option that, if exercised, would require the repurchase of up to $20 million principal amount in 2009. If repurchased prior to maturity, then the interest obligation shown in the above table would be reduced in future years. The interest rate on this long-term debt issue with a put option is 6.65 percent.
In February 2008, we extended the term of an agreement with Northwest Pipeline for approximately 350,000 therms per day of firm transportation capacity from the U.S. Rocky Mountain region through 2044. Also in February 2008, we executed an agreement with a third party to take
assignment of their firm transportation contract starting no earlier than 2012 and no later than 2017, with the term extending through 2046. This contract consists of 120,000 therms per day on Northwest Pipeline from the U.S. Rocky Mountain region.
Approximately 700 of our utility employees are members of the Office and Professional Employees International Union, Local No. 11. These employees are covered by a labor agreement (Joint Accord) with respect to wages, benefits and working conditions. This Joint Accord will expire on May 31, 2009. Each party has served notice of intent to negotiate the terms of an agreement prior to the May 31, 2009 expiration date.
Our primary source of short-term liquidity is from internal cash flows and the sale of commercial paper notes payable. In addition to issuing commercial paper to meet seasonal working capital requirements, including the financing of gas inventories and accounts receivable, short-term debt may be used to temporarily fund capital requirements. Commercial paper is periodically refinanced through the sale of long-term debt or equity securities. Our outstanding commercial paper, which is sold through two commercial banks under an issuing and paying agency agreement, is supported by one or more unsecured revolving credit facilities (see Credit Agreement, below and Note 6). Our commercial paper program did not experience any liquidity disruptions as a result of the recent credit problems that affected issuers of asset-backed commercial paper and certain other commercial paper programs. At December 31, 2008 and 2007 we had commercial paper outstanding of $248.0 million and $143.1 million, respectively (see Note 6). This years outstanding balances were higher than last year primarily due to gas cost deferrals associated with higher gas purchases, higher balances in gas inventories and accounts receivable, commodity hedge payments, and delaying the issuance of long-term debt.
We have a syndicated line of credit for unsecured revolving loans totaling $250 million available and committed for a term expiring on May 31, 2012, with $210 million of that commitment amount extended through May 31, 2013. Additionally, we entered into two committed bilateral bank lines of credit totaling $30 million in November 2008, of which $15 million expired December 31, 2008 and $15 million expired February 27, 2009. The lenders under our syndicated and bilateral credit agreements are major financial institutions with committed balances and investment grade credit ratings as of December 31, 2008 as follows:
Based on recent conditions in the credit markets, it is possible that one or more lending commitments could be unavailable to us if the lender defaulted due to lack of funds or insolvency. However, based on our current assessment of the lenders creditworthiness, including a review of capital ratios, credit default swap spreads and credit ratings, we believe the risk of lender default is minimal.
Pursuant to the terms of our credit agreement for the syndicated line of credit, we may request maturity extensions for additional one-year periods subject to lender approval. We extended commitments with six of the seven lenders under the syndicated credit agreement, with commitments totaling $210 million, to May 31, 2013. The credit agreement also allows us to request increases in the total commitment amount from time to time, up to a maximum amount of $400 million, and to replace any lenders who decline to extend the terms of the credit agreement. The credit agreement also permits the issuance of letters of credit in an aggregate amount up to the applicable total borrowing commitment. Any principal and unpaid interest owed on borrowings under the credit agreement are due and payable on or before the expiration date. There were no outstanding balances under this credit agreement at December 31, 2008 and 2007. The credit agreement also requires us to maintain a consolidated indebtedness to total capitalization ratio of 70 percent or less. Failure to comply with this covenant would entitle the lenders to terminate their lending commitments and accelerate the maturity of all amounts outstanding. We were in compliance with this covenant at December 31, 2008 and 2007, with our consolidated indebtedness to total capitalization ratios of 54.7 percent, and 52.7 percent, respectively.
The credit agreement requires that we maintain credit ratings with S&P and Moodys and notify the lenders of any change in our senior unsecured debt ratings by such rating agencies. A change in our debt ratings is not an event of default, nor is the maintenance of a specific minimum level of debt rating a condition of drawing upon the credit agreement. However, interest rates on any loans outstanding under the credit agreement are tied to debt ratings, which would increase or decrease the cost of any loans under the credit agreement when ratings are changed.
The table below summarizes our credit ratings from two rating agencies, S&P and Moodys.
Both rating agencies have assigned investment grade credit ratings to NW Natural. These credit ratings are dependent upon a number of factors, both qualitative and quantitative, and are subject to change at any time. The disclosure of these credit ratings is not a recommendation to buy, sell or hold NW Natural securities. Each rating should be evaluated independently of any other rating. During the fourth quarter of 2008, our ratings outlook was changed from stable to negative by S&P and from positive to stable by Moodys.
Redemptions of Long-Term Debt
We redeemed MTNs during 2008, 2007 and 2006 as follows:
Year-over-year changes in our operating cash flows are primarily affected by net income, changes in working capital requirements and other cash and non-cash adjustments to operating results. In 2008, cash flow from net income and operating activity adjustments, excluding working capital changes, decreased $37.9 million compared to 2007. Working capital changes in 2008 decreased cash flow by $111.0 million compared to 2007. The majority of these working capital changes, particularly those related to accounts receivable, unbilled revenues inventories, income taxes receivable and accounts payable, will reverse over the next six months reflecting changes in seasonal working capital. The overall change in cash flow from operating activities in 2008 compared to 2007 was a decrease of $148.9 million. The significant factors contributing to the cash flow changes between 2008 and 2007 are as follows:
2008 compared to 2007:
In December 2008, we filed an application for a change in tax accounting method in connection with routine repairs and maintenance of gas pipeline that are currently being capitalized and depreciated. We anticipate that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) will consent to this change during the first quarter of 2009. If consented to by the IRS, then we expect to claim a deduction and record current tax benefits that will result in a cash refund of taxes paid. If approved, we estimate the tax refund amount in 2009 for prior years taxes paid to be in excess of $15 million related to the routine repairs and maintenance.
In 2007, cash flow from net income and operating activity adjustments, excluding working capital changes, increased by $23.0 million, primarily due an increase in cash collections from deferred gas costs and improved operating results. Working capital changes in 2007 increased cash flow by $12.1 million. The overall change in cash flow from operations in 2007 was an increase of $35.1 million compared to 2006. The significant factors contributing to the cash flow changes between 2007 and 2006 are as follows:
2007 compared to 2006:
We have lease and purchase commitments relating to our operating activities that are financed with cash flows from operations (see Liquidity and Capital ResourcesContractual Obligations, above and Note 12).
Cash requirements for investing activities in 2008 totaled $109.8 million, down from $117.5 million in 2007. Cash requirements for the acquisition and construction of utility plant were $96.6 million in 2008, up slightly from $93.8 million in 2007. Cash requirements for investments in non-utility property were $7.4 million in 2008, primarily related to investments in Gill Ranch, compared to $24.4 million in 2007, primarily due to investments made related to the Mist gas storage expansion. Cash used in other investing activities in 2008 totaled $5.8 million compared to cash collected of $0.7 million in 2007. The change in 2008 is primarily due to a $7.5 million investment in the Palomar project and a $5.0 million restricted cash balance in Gill Ranch, partially offset by $6.8 million of proceeds received from the sale of our investment in a Boeing 737-300 aircraft.
Cash requirements for investing activities in 2007 totaled $117.5 million, up from $90.6 million in 2006. Cash requirements for the acquisition and construction of utility plant were $93.8 million in 2007, down slightly from $95.3 million in 2006. Cash requirements for investments in non-utility property increased to $24.4 million in 2007, compared to $1.8 million in 2006, primarily related to investments in Mist gas storage, Gill Ranch and Palomar.
In 2009, utility capital expenditures are estimated to be between $100 and $110 million, and non-utility capital investments are expected to be between $50 and $70 million for business development projects that are currently in process (see 2009 Outlook, above).
Over the five-year period 2009 through 2013, utility construction expenditures are estimated at between $450 and $500 million. The estimated level of capital expenditures over the next five years reflects continued customer growth, gas storage development at Mist, technology improvements and utility system improvements, including requirements under the Pipeline Safety Improvement Act of 2002. Most of the required funds are expected to be internally generated over the five-year period and any remaining funding will be obtained through the issuance of long-term debt or equity securities, with short-term debt providing liquidity and bridge financing.
Cash provided by financing activities in 2008 totaled $75.9 million, as compared to cash used of $65.8 million in 2007. Factors contributing to the $141.7 million net increase in cash include share
repurchases of $44.6 million in 2007 compared to no repurchases in 2008, long-term debt retired of $5.0 million in 2008 compared to $29.5 million in 2007, and an increase in short-term debt balances of $74.7 million in 2008, including borrowings from the cash surrender value in company-owned life insurance policies, compared to 2007.
Cash used in financing activities in 2007 totaled $65.8 million, as compared to $59.4 million in 2006. Factors contributing to the $6.4 million net increase in cash used include an increase in share repurchases of $28.7 million, an increase in long-term debt retired of $21.5 million, and a reduction in long-term debt issuances of $25.0 million, offset by an increase in cash from the change in short-term debt balances of $69.6 million in 2007 compared to 2006.
In October 2007, we entered into a forward-starting interest rate swap with a notional principal amount of $50 million. This fixed-rate forward-starting swap is intended to mitigate a substantial portion of the interest rate exposure associated with our anticipated issuance of MTNs in the first quarter of 2009 when we would expect to cash settle this contract. The associated gain or loss on settlement will be recorded as a regulatory asset or liability and amortized in accordance with regulatory requirements. We did not issue any new long-term debt during 2007 or 2008.
In December 2006, we sold $25 million of 5.15 percent Series B, secured MTNs due 2016 and used the proceeds to reduce short-term indebtedness and to fund utility construction.
In 2000, we announced a program to repurchase up to 2 million shares, or up to $35 million in value, of our common stock through a repurchase program. In 2006 that program was modified to 2.6 million shares and $85 million in value, and the program was further modified in 2007 to authorize the repurchase of up to 2.8 million shares or up to $100 million and was extended through May 2009. The purchases are made in the open market or through privately negotiated transactions. No repurchases were made in 2008. Repurchases in 2007 totaled 963,428 shares or $44.2 million; and in 2006 totaled 395,500 shares or $16.0 million. Since the programs inception, we have repurchased an aggregate 2.1 million shares of common stock at a total cost of $83.3 million (see Part II, Item 5, Market for the Registrants Common Equity, Related Stockholder Matters and Issuer Purchases of Equity Securities, above).
In 2008, we produced negative free cash flow of $115.3 million, compared to free cash flow of $27.5 million in 2007 and $19.7 million in 2006. Free cash flow is the amount of cash remaining after the payment of all cash expenses, capital expenditures (investment activities) and dividends. Free cash flow is a non-GAAP financial measure, but we believe this supplemental information enables the reader of the financial statements to better understand our cash generating ability and to benefit from seeing cash flow results from managements perspective in addition to the traditional GAAP presentation. We monitor free cash flow as one measure of our return on investments. Provided below is a reconciliation from cash provided by operations (GAAP basis) to our non-GAAP free cash flow.
The free cash flow information presented above is not intended to be a substitute for, nor is it meant to be a better measure of, cash flow results prepared in accordance with GAAP. In addition, the
non-GAAP measure we provide may be calculated differently by other companies that present a similar non-GAAP financial measure for free cash flow.
Pension Cost and Funding Status of Qualified Retirement Plans
Pension costs are determined in accordance with SFAS No. 87 (see Application of Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates Accounting for Pensions, above). Pension costs for our two qualified defined benefit plans, which are allocated between operations and maintenance expense and capital accounts based on employee payroll distributions, totaled $4.3 million in 2008, a decrease of $2.4 million over 2007.
The fair market value of the assets in these two plans decreased to $163.1 million at December 31, 2008 down from $241.4 million at December 31, 2007. The decrease was due to a negative return on plan assets of $63.3 million and benefit payments of $15.0 million net of contributions.
We make contributions to our qualified defined benefit pension plans based on actuarial assumptions and estimates, tax regulations and funding requirements under federal law. The Pension Protection Act of 2006 (the Act) established new funding requirements for defined benefit plans. The Act establishes a 100 percent funding target for plan years beginning after December 31, 2008. However, a delayed effective date of 2011 may apply if the pension plan meets the funding targets of 92 percent in 2008, 94 percent in 2009 and 96 percent in 2010. Our qualified defined benefit pension plans are currently underfunded by $98.4 million at December 31, 2008, and we expect to make at least the minimum contribution required pursuant to the Act, which is currently estimated at $8 million. We plan to make additional contributions during 2009, which could bring our total contributions in 2009 up to $40 million. We would need to make a total contribution of at least $17 million during 2009 to avoid any restrictions on benefit payments. For more information, see Note 7.
Ratios of Earnings to Fixed Charges
For the years ended December 31, 2008, 2007 and 2006, our ratios of earnings to fixed charges, computed using the Securities and Exchange Commission method, were 3.76, 3.92 and 3.40, respectively. For this purpose, earnings consist of net income before taxes plus fixed charges, and fixed charges consist of interest on all indebtedness, the amortization of debt expense and discount or premium and the estimated interest portion of rentals charged to income.
Loss contingencies are recorded as liabilities when it is probable that a liability has been incurred and the amount of the loss is reasonably estimable in accordance with SFAS No. 5 (see Application of Critical Accounting Policies and EstimatesContingencies, above). At December 31, 2008, a cumulative $66.1 million in environmental costs was recorded as a regulatory asset, consisting of $30.1 million of costs paid to-date, $30.0 million for additional environmental accruals for costs expected to be paid in the future and accrued regulatory interest of $6.0 million. If it is determined that both the insurance recovery and future customer rate recovery of such costs was not probable, then the costs will be charged to expense in the period such determination is made. For further discussion of contingent liabilities, see Note 12.
New Accounting Pronouncements
For a description of recent accounting pronouncements that may have an impact on our financial condition, results of operations or cash flows, see Note 1.
We are exposed to various forms of market risk including commodity supply risk, commodity price risk, interest rate risk, foreign currency risk, credit risk and weather risk. The following describes our exposure to these risks.
Commodity Supply Risk
We enter into spot, short-term and long-term natural gas supply contracts, along with associated pipeline transportation contracts, to manage our commodity supply risk. Historically, we have arranged for physical delivery of an adequate supply of gas, including gas in storage facilities, to meet the expected requirements of our core utility customers. Our gas purchase contracts are primarily index-based and subject to monthly re-pricing, a strategy that is intended to reflect market price trends during the upcoming year. Our PGA mechanisms in Oregon and Washington provide for the recovery from customers of actual commodity costs, except that, for Oregon customers, we currently absorb 20 percent of the higher cost of gas sold, or retain 20 percent of the lower cost, in either case as compared to the annual PGA price built into customer rates.
Commodity Price Risk
Natural gas commodity prices are subject to fluctuations due to unpredictable factors including weather, pipeline transportation congestion, potential market speculation and other factors that affect short-term supply and demand. Commodity-price financial swap and option contracts (financial hedge contracts) are used to convert certain natural gas supply contracts from floating prices to fixed or capped prices. These financial hedge contracts are generally included in our annual PGA filing for recovery, subject to a regulatory prudence review. At December 31, 2008 and 2007, notional amounts under these financial hedge contracts totaled $393.0 million and $287.6 million, respectively. If all of the commodity-based financial hedge contracts had been settled on December 31, 2008, a loss of about $139.2 million would have been realized and recorded to a deferred regulatory account (see Note 11). We monitor the liquidity of our financial hedge contracts. Based on the existing open interest in the contracts held, we believe existing contracts to be liquid. All of our financial hedge contracts settle by or are extendible to October 31, 2010. The $139.2 million unrealized loss is an estimate of future cash flows based on forward market prices that are expected to be paid as follows: $130.3 million in the next 12-month period, and $8.9 million in the following 12-month period. The amount realized will change based on market prices at the time contract settlements are fixed.
Natural gas commodity prices early in the third quarter of 2008 were higher than prices embedded in the corresponding PGA for unhedged purchases. To the extent that we purchase gas volumes where the price is not hedged and the current market prices are above those embedded in rates for current customer consumption (i.e. not for storage injections), our earnings are negatively impacted because either 10 to 20 percent of any difference between the actual purchase gas costs and the gas costs embedded in Oregon rates are recognized in current income. In 2008, we recognized a loss of $5.5 million due to higher gas prices.
Interest Rate Risk
We are exposed to interest rate risk associated with new debt financing needed to fund capital requirements, including future contractual obligations and maturities of long-term and short-term debt. Interest rate risk is primarily managed through the issuance of fixed-rate debt with varying maturities. We may also enter into financial derivative instruments, including interest rate swaps, options and other hedging instruments, to manage and mitigate interest rate exposure. During the fourth quarter of 2007, we entered into a forward starting interest rate swap with a notional amount of $50 million to hedge the interest rate on our next long-term debt issuance, which was expected to occur in the latter part of 2008. However, due to credit market conditions, the swap was extended to the second quarter of 2009. This swap is with an A+/Aa2 rated counterparty and qualifies as a cash flow hedge under SFAS No. 133, Accounting for Derivative Instruments and Hedging Activities, as amended by SFAS No. 138 and SFAS No. 149 (collectively referred to as SFAS No. 133). The mark-to-market unrealized loss at December 31, 2008 related to this interest rate swap was $11.9 million.
Holders of certain long-term debt have put options that, if exercised, would accelerate maturities by $20 million in 2009 (see Note 5).
Foreign Currency Risk
The costs of certain natural gas commodity supplies and certain pipeline services purchased from Canadian suppliers are subject to changes in the value of the Canadian currency in relation to the U.S. currency. Foreign currency forward contracts are used to hedge against fluctuations in exchange rates with respect to purchases of natural gas from Canadian suppliers. At December 31, 2008 and 2007, notional amounts under foreign currency forward contracts totaled $5.2 million and $6.1 million, respectively. As of December 31, 2008, no foreign currency forward contracts were outstanding with a maturity date after November 30, 2009. If all of the foreign currency forward contracts had been settled on December 31, 2008, a loss of $0.4 million would have been realized (see Note 11).
Credit exposure to suppliers. Certain suppliers that sell us gas have either relatively low credit ratings or are not rated by major credit rating agencies. To manage this supply risk, we purchase gas from a number of different suppliers at liquid exchange points. We evaluate and monitor suppliers creditworthiness and maintain the ability to require additional financial assurances, including deposits, letters of credit or surety bonds, in case a supplier defaults. In the event of a suppliers failure to deliver contracted volumes of gas, the regulated utility would need to replace those volumes at prevailing market prices, which may be higher or lower than the original transaction prices. We believe these costs would be subject to the PGA sharing mechanism discussed above. Since most of our commodity supply contracts are priced at the monthly market index price tied to liquid exchange points, and we have significant storage flexibility, we believe that it is unlikely that a supplier default would have a material adverse effect on our financial condition or results of operations.
Credit exposure to financial derivative counterparties. Based on estimated fair value at December 31, 2008, our credit exposure relating to commodity hedge contracts reflected an amount we owed of $130.3 million to our finance derivative counterparties. Our financial derivatives policy requires counterparties to have a minimum investment-grade credit rating at the time the derivative instrument is entered into, and specific limits on the contract amount and duration based on each counterpartys credit rating. Some counterparties were recently downgraded but continue to maintain investment grade ratings (see table below). Due to current market conditions and credit concerns, we
continue to enforce strong credit requirements. We actively monitor our derivative credit exposure and place counterparties on hold for trading purposes or require letters of credit or guarantees as circumstances warrant. Our actual derivative credit exposure, which reflects amounts that financial derivative counterparties owe to us, is under contracts that expire or are expected to settle on or before October 31, 2010.
The following table summarizes our credit exposure, based on estimated fair value, and the corresponding counterparty credit ratings. The table uses credit ratings from S&P and Moodys, reflecting the higher of the S&P or Moodys rating or a middle rating if the entity is split-rated with more than one rating level difference:
To mitigate the credit risk of financial derivatives we have master netting arrangements with our counterparties that provide for making or receiving net cash settlements. Generally, transactions of the same type in the same currency that have a settlement on the same day with a single counterparty are netted and a single payment is delivered or received depending on which party is due funds.
Additionally we have master contracts in place with each of our derivative counterparties that include provisions for posting or calling for collateral. Generally we can obtain cash or marketable securities as collateral with one days notice. We use various collateral management strategies to reduce liquidity risk. The collateral provisions vary by counterparty but are not expected to result in the significant posting of collateral, if any. We have performed stress tests on the portfolio and concluded that the liquidity risk from collateral calls is not material. Our derivative credit exposure is primarily with investment grade counterparties rated AA-/Aa3 or higher. Contracts are diversified across counterparties to reduce credit and liquidity risk.
We are exposed to weather risk primarily from our regulated utility business. A large percentage of our utility margin is volume driven, and current rates are based on an assumption of average weather. In 2003, the OPUC approved a weather normalization mechanism for residential and commercial customers. This mechanism affects customer bills between December 1 through May 15 of each winter heating season, increasing or decreasing the margin component of customers rates to reflect gas usage based on average weather using the 25-year average temperature for each day of the billing period. The mechanism is intended to stabilize the recovery of our utilitys fixed costs and reduce fluctuations in customers bills due to colder or warmer than average weather. Customers in Oregon are allowed to opt out of the weather normalization mechanism. As of December 31, 2008, less than 10 percent of our Oregon customers had opted out. In addition to the Oregon customers opting out, our Washington residential and commercial customers account for approximately 10 percent of our total customer base and are not covered by weather normalization. The combination of Oregon and Washington customers not covered by a weather normalization mechanism is less than 20 percent of all residential and commercial customers.
Supplemental Schedules Omitted
All other schedules are omitted because of the absence of the conditions under which they are required or because the required information is included elsewhere in the financial statements.
MANAGEMENTS REPORT ON INTERNAL CONTROL OVER FINANCIAL REPORTING
Management is responsible for establishing and maintaining adequate internal control over financial reporting as defined in Rules 13a-15(f) and 15d-15(f) under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. Our internal control over financial reporting is designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting and the preparation of financial statements for external purposes in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles in the United States of America (GAAP). Our internal control over financial reporting includes those policies and procedures that:
(i) pertain to the maintenance of records that, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions involving company assets;
(ii) provide reasonable assurance that transactions are recorded as necessary to permit the preparation of financial statements in accordance with GAAP, and that receipts and expenditures are being made only in accordance with authorizations of management and the Board of Directors; and
(iii) provide reasonable assurance regarding prevention or timely detection of the unauthorized acquisition, use or disposition of our assets that could have a material effect on the financial statements.
Because of its inherent limitations, internal control over financial reporting may not prevent or detect misstatements or fraud. Also, projections of any evaluation of effectiveness to future periods are subject to the risk that controls may become inadequate because of changes in conditions, or that the degree of compliance with the policies or procedures may deteriorate.
Management assessed the effectiveness of NW Naturals internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2008. In making this assessment, management used the criteria set forth by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO) in Internal Control-Integrated Framework.
Based on our assessment and those criteria, management has concluded that NW Natural maintained effective internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2008.
The effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2008 has been audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, an independent registered public accounting firm, as stated in their report which appears in this annual report.
/s/ Gregg S. Kantor
Gregg S. Kantor
President and Chief Executive Officer
/s/ David H. Anderson
David H. Anderson
Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer
February 27, 2009
REPORT OF INDEPENDENT REGISTERED PUBLIC ACCOUNTING FIRM
To the Board of Directors and Shareholders of
Northwest Natural Gas Company:
In our opinion, the consolidated financial statements listed in the accompanying table of contents present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of Northwest Natural Gas Company and its subsidiaries at December 31, 2008 and 2007, and the results of their operations and their cash flows for each of the three years in the period ended December 31, 2008 in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States of America. In addition, in our opinion, the financial statement schedule listed in the accompanying table of contents presents fairly, in all material respects, the information set forth therein when read in conjunction with the related consolidated financial statements. Also in our opinion, the Company maintained, in all material respects, effective internal control over financial reporting as of December 31, 2008, based on criteria established in Internal ControlIntegrated Framework issued by the Committee of Sponsoring Organizations of the Treadway Commission (COSO). The Companys management is responsible for these financial statements and financial statement schedule, for maintaining effective internal control over financial reporting and for its assessment of the effectiveness of internal control over financial reporting, included in the accompanying Managements Report on Internal Control over Financial Reporting. Our responsibility is to express opinions on these financial statements, on the financial statement schedule, and on the Companys internal control over financial reporting based on our integrated audits. We conducted our audits in accordance with the standards of the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (United States). Those standards require that we plan and perform the audits to obtain reasonable assurance about whether the financial statements are free of material misstatement and whether effective internal control over financial reporting was maintained in all material respects. Our audits of the financial statements included examining, on a test basis, evidence supporting the amounts and disclosures in the financial statements, assessing the accounting principles used and significant estimates made by management, and evaluating the overall financial statement presentation. Our audit of internal control over financial reporting included obtaining an understanding of internal control over financial reporting, assessing the risk that a material weakness exists, and testing and evaluating the design and operating effectiveness of internal control based on the assessed risk. Our audits also included performing such other procedures as we considered necessary in the circumstances. We believe that our audits provide a reasonable basis for our opinions.
As discussed in Note 1 to the consolidated financial statements, the Company changed the manner in which it accounts for fair value measurements in 2008. As discussed in Note 7 to the consolidated financial statements, the Company changed the manner in which it accounts for defined benefit pension and other postretirement plans effective December 31, 2006.
A companys internal control over financial reporting is a process designed to provide reasonable assurance regarding the reliability of financial reporting and the preparation of financial statements for external purposes in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles. A companys internal control over financial reporting includes those policies and procedures that (i) pertain to the maintenance of records that, in reasonable detail, accurately and fairly reflect the transactions and dispositions of the assets of the company; (ii) provide reasonable assurance that transactions are recorded as necessary to permit preparation of financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles, and that receipts and expenditures of the company are being made only in accordance with authorizations of management and directors of the company; and (iii) provide reasonable assurance regarding prevention or timely detection of unauthorized acquisition, use, or disposition of the companys assets that could have a material effect on the financial statements.
Because of its inherent limitations, internal control over financial reporting may not prevent or detect misstatements. Also, projections of any evaluation of effectiveness to future periods are subject to the risk that controls may become inadequate because of changes in conditions, or that the degree of compliance with the policies or procedures may deteriorate.
/s/ PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP
February 27, 2009
CONSOLIDATED STATEMENTS OF INCOME
See Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
CONSOLIDATED BALANCE SHEETS
See Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
NORTHWEST NATURAL GAS COMPANY
CONSOLIDATED BALANCE SHEETS
See Notes to Consolidated Financial Statements.
CONSOLIDATED STATEMENTS OF SHAREHOLDERS EQUITY AND