By Carly Wanna | Bloomberg
Andra Bard knew her gas bill was going to rise significantly. But nothing prepared her for a 385% increase.
This week, the 52-year-old who lives in Santa Monica opened her statement to find she owes $330 for the month of January. Bard looked back at old bills and crunched the numbers. She paid an average of $68 a month the past year.
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Bard texted friends and family around Southern California and quickly realized she was not alone. All over the state, residents are complaining of sky-high energy bills. “It’s just shocking,” said Bard, who uses natural gas to heat her two-bedroom apartment, cook and dry her laundry. “This can’t be sustainable.”
Nationwide, wholesale natural gas prices have fallen about 50% since the end of October. Meanwhile, the opposite trend has emerged in California, where prices have risen 63%.
The state’s colder- and wetter-than-usual weather hasn’t helped, dialing up demand for heating. Temperatures in California have on average been about 2 degrees Fahrenheit below normal since Dec. 1, in part because of the parade of storms off the Pacific Ocean that have caused widespread flooding, according to Paul Markert, a meteorologist with commercial forecaster Maxar.
About 70% of homes in California rely on gas for heat. That’s comparable to colder states like New York and Michigan.
Other factors on the supply side include limitations to the capacity in a pipeline flowing from Texas to the West that’s under maintenance, and a reduced amount of gas inventories in the US Pacific region.
Sempra Energy’s Southern California Gas Co. said in late December that customers can expect to see their bills almost triple this winter compared to last year, warning in no uncertain terms that: “There’s no easy way to put this. January bills are likely to be shockingly high.” Relief could be in sight, with SoCalGas saying the next billing round should be lower.The same gas usage should, on average, result in a February bill that is less than half of what it was in January. Even so, prices still remain higher than normal for this time of year, according to the company.
SoCalGas has announced a $1 million contribution to its Gas Assistance Fund, which offers up to $100 one-time grants to households that earn below certain income thresholds.
PG&E Corp., which serves Northern and Central California, warned Californians of high prices, citing tight supply and increased demand amid unusually chilly weather. The company projected residential energy prices would be roughly 32% higher between November and March compared with the same period a year earlier.
Local politicians are trying to come up with solutions. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has asked the state to launch an investigation into spiking gas bills, and Long Beach Mayor Rex Richardson is holding an emergency City Council meeting on Wednesday to explore ways to help households facing “unusually high” utility bills.
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