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Central Coast families see dramatic rise in gas bills as Newsom calls for federal investigation

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Posted at 10:43 PM, Feb 07, 2023

Governor Gavin Newsom is calling for a federal investigation into a sudden spike in natural gas prices.

If your gas bill has gone up, you’re not alone.

Some Californians are paying hundreds of dollars more a month and it’s cutting into their bottom line.

“It’s the first thing that came to mind. My gas bill has gone up a couple hundred of dollars a month which was a big surprise,” said Arroyo Grande Resident Jolene Ketting.

The price of heating, air conditioning and cooking has seen a dramatic rise that is disproportionately affecting California and the West Coast.

“We’re up there 400 plus in gas bills so we’re thinking of other things we can do like using electric,” explained Ketting, whose gas bill has doubled in just a few months.

She’s now plugging in electric heaters to bring down utility costs.

It’s a similar situation for many.

“You’re looking at bills that are higher by potentially hundreds of dollars and that has a real impact on California families,” said Daniel Villasenor, who is Governor Newsom’s deputy press secretary.

Newsom’s office is now asking the federal energy regulatory commission to investigate whether market manipulation or anti-competitive behavior is driving the sudden price hike.

“In general, we see spikes and they’re big and they’re quick. This was a spike, and it was not quick,” said Matt Baker, Director of the Public Advocates Office, an independent watchdog group for the California Public Utilities Commission.

“We were seeing prices that reflected scarcity,” he explained while adding that since November, there have been pipeline and weather-related issues. Those issues, however, were not severe enough to drive prices as high and as suddenly as they climbed.

“It was not related to reliability. There were no shortages of gas. There were no problems in moving the gas into California. It was just incredibly expensive,” said Baker.

The Public Advocates Office is also concerned that natural gas prices shot up while utility companies were bidding to set prices for the next month.

“It’s just strange that during those key times when utilities do their bidding-- that you have these two needle-like price spikes,” said Baker.

California regulators are now hoping to find out what caused the price hike with the goal of preventing this from happening again.

“There is really only so much authority from the state to do this and so that’s why he’s going to the federal government—to the entity that’s really responsible for looking at this,” said Villasenor about Governor Newsom’s calls for a federal investigation.

If federal regulators find evidence of wrongdoing, they could impose fines or new regulations on the market.

To bring some relief, California regulators this week voted to accelerate climate credits on utility bills.

The average ratepayer can expect a $90 to 120 dollar credit as soon as March.