SoCal Gas Company Customers are still unhappy with their rising gas bills
When Westlake Hills homeowner Sandra Lion received a bill for $232 from the Southern California Gas Co. in January, she figured something must be wrong. During the same billing period the previous year, Dec. 10 to Jan. 13, her bill was just $109. Wondering how her bill doubled, she decided to call the gas company to find out. A customer service rep told her an unusually cold winter was to blame, an explanation she originally accepted. But after posting about her bill on Nextdoor.com, a private social networking site for neighborhoods, Lion learned others shared her suspicion that something just wasn’t right. “I just threw it out there to see what other people have experienced and I got about 90 responses of people saying the same thing: ‘my bill went up.’”
Among the chorus of voices complaining about the gas-bill spike is Los Angeles City Councilman Mitchell Englander, who suggested the gas company is hiking rates to account for losses from the Porter Ranch leak, which cost the utility over $50 million. “This bill spiking comes at a time when SoCal Gas is experiencing a major disaster at its Aliso Canyon facility,” Englander said in a statement.
“I am simply not buying that these two incidents are not related. It appears that the entire Los Angeles basin is now feeling the effects of the Aliso Canyon gas leak,” Englander said.
Melissa Bailey, spokesperson for the gas company, said there is no connection between Porter Ranch and the increased bills. She said all rate increases must go through the California Public Utilities Commission for approval.
“We know that November and December have been the coldest since 2011 . . . so we know people are using their heat and water more,” Bailey said. “Every year that there’s a colder winter we have to explain 50 percent of your gas bill is usually heating costs and that can jump up quite a bit.”
Englander said he would submit a resolution to the L.A. City Council asking for the state’s public utilities commission to look into the gas company’s rates.
In Thousand Oaks, another culprit has been identified: smart meters. The gas company installed the devices, which transmit usage figures directly to the gas company without the need for meter readers, and have been rolling them out over the past few months.
“Advanced meters were installed, there’s the same usage and they didn’t change anything but there was an increase in their bill,” Lion said.
Sabrina Barthe of Westlake Village saw her bill go from $67.57 in 2015 to $129.90 in 2016 after the installation of an advanced meter. She said she rarely uses her heater and dries her clothes on an outdoor line.
She said an employee from the gas company even came out to her home to see if there was an issue with an appliance leaking gas or the meter not working correctly, but couldn’t find a problem.
Asked if smart meters could be the reason residents are seeing higher bills, Bailey pointed back to the cold weather, as well as additional days in the billing cycle.
Barthe isn’t buying the company’s reasoning.
“Bills doubling or tripling because there were a few extra days on the calendar . . . the whole thing doesn’t make sense,” Barthe said. “I’ve been here for 21 years and never encountered any problems with the gas bill.”
Woes over higher gas bills are not unlike those experienced by local residents who noticed increases on their electricity bills when Southern California Edison installed new smart meters several years ago.
To learn more about the gas company’s smart meters and other topics, go to www.socalgas.com/save-money-and-energy/advanced-meter