Memphis wins kudos for low-cost utilities

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Are higher utility bills eating into your monthly budget?

Then Memphis is the place for you.

The Tennessee city tops the list of the 25 largest US cities having the lowest total monthly residential utility bills, according to data compiled by the California Public Utilities Commission. Memphis's easy-on-the-wallet $61.46 tab compares with a hefty $144.13 for New York City, the most expensive place on the list.

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The survey covers the period from July 1, 1981, to June 30, 1982. It compares monthly residential bills for 70 therms of natural gas, 500 kilowatt hours of electricity, and flat-rate telephone service.

Average total monthly utility bills for most cities were between $77 and $95. Gas and electric bills rose over the year for all cities in the survey. Telephone bills were also generally higher from a year prior, but with some exceptions. Average monthly telephone bills were down slightly from the previous year in Phoenix, Memphis, and Cleveland, and were unchanged in New Orleans, Washington, Jacksonville, and Philadelphia.

Telephone rates listed in the survey are basic costs for flat-rate service with unlimited local calling. Instrumental charges of varying amounts are added where applicable.

California Public Utilities Commission president John E. Bryson stresses that spiraling natural-gas costs by wholesale suppliers will continue to drive up rates unless suppliers ''are discouraged from hiking prices.'' Seven million California residential, commercial, and industrial natural-gas customers use 10 percent of all US consumption, says Mr. Bryson.

California gets mixed reviews. San Francisco, which ranked ninth a year ago, improved its standing to the fifth lowest, while Los Angeles remained stable in sixth place. San Jose, which ranked with San Francisco in ninth spot a year ago, fell to 13th position, pushed by higher gas costs. San Diego, which is largely dependent on expensive fossil fuel in the generation of electricity and does not have the diversity of energy mix that other parts of the state have, tumbled to 23rd on the list from 19th, mainly from increased electric bills.

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