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Rising natural gas prices hurting the wallets of millions of Americans

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Posted at 5:38 PM, Jan 30, 2023

Natural gas prices are going to be shockingly high for January, according to the Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas).

The utility sent out warning emails to their customers that read, "There's no easy way to put it, January bills are going to be higher than usual."

They attribute the historic prices to a combination of things: widespread below-average temperatures, high consumption, reduced natural gas flows, and pipeline constraints.

Rising natural gas prices, which are passed through at-cost directly to utility customers, are running about five times higher than last January. According to SoCalGas, the impacts are being felt throughout the western United States, with bills hundreds of dollars higher than normal.

"When I first saw my bill last month, I was like, 'oh my gosh, that’s crazy,' and then when I got a notice it was going to be double this month, I was like, 'no, it can’t be.' I turned down my heater as soon as I saw it went up last month," said Cambria resident Joanie Kemp.

After checking, rechecking, and checking again, Kemp realized there was no discrepancy — her bill had escalated from around $30 in November to $129 in December and $200 in January. But what came next left her in disbelief: SoCalGas alerted her that she will owe $410 for the upcoming billing period.

"In the last two months I actually used two less therms or no less therms than the month before when it was $139 and not that much more than when it was $30, so it's been really shocking and I wanted to find out why,” said Kemp.

According to SoCalGas, the 'why' is out of their hands, saying, “These increases are primarily due to increases in the price of gas and to a much lesser extent increased transportation rates. Our rates for the transportation of natural gas are set by the California Public Utilities Commission, which reviews those rates yearly.”

To supplement the price increase, they announced a $1 million contribution to their Gas Assistance Fund which provides financial help up to $100 to customers.

Applicants need to have their name on the bill, the address must be their primary residence, and they need to meet income requirements.

SoCalGas also has a California Alternate Rates for Energy program that gives 20% off the bill to qualified customers. You can apply online with your account number and find out instantly if you qualify by meeting the income requirements.

Along with help from SoCalGas, there are financial assistance programs locally too.

"We provide assistance for families or individuals that live in South County that are eligible for our programs. We also work a lot with our industry partners. We refer out to CAPSLO a lot. They have an assistance program and a weatherization program," said Devon McQuade, 5Cities Homeless Coalition Associate Director.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) will hold a virtual meeting on February 7 to discuss the high natural gas prices this winter and look at options to mitigate the impact on customers.

As for when prices will come down, SoCalGas could not give an exact date as to when to expect relief.