SoCal braces for brutal gas bills as snowy storms move in
Richard Keating, 78, was the architect who designed the iconic Gas Co. Tower in downtown Los Angeles. He now wishes he had fewer natural gas appliances at his home in San Marino as he faces four-digit gas bills for the third straight month.
Completed in 1991, the tower has a pointed blue glass crown designed to resemble a gas flame. Southern California Gas Co. has offices there.
Like people across the state, Keating faces an ongoing cold spell and wonders how he can keep heating bills down despite high prices. Though unlike many others he’s attempting to heat a multimillion-dollar home, the outsized bills eat into the budget.
“I can’t freeze to death in the house, so the heaters are on,” he said. “Even if I’m aggressive, there’s not much I can do” to reduce natural gas consumption. Keating said he stopped heating his pool after the “very big surge” in January left him with a $1,327.02 bill.
In February, his bill rose to $1,534.93, a multiple of what he paid the previous year. His next bill was estimated at $921.70 – but that forecast came ahead of the storm that threatens cold temperatures across much of Southern California this week.
Keating designed and built his home about 15 years ago. He now wishes he had installed solar panels and reduced his reliance on gas. “Here’s a guy who should have known better and didn’t,” he said. If he could go back in time and remodel his house to avoid the fuel whose eponymous tower he designed, he “surely would.”
SoCalGas prices fell more than two-thirds in February after prices skyrocketed in January, but “remain higher than usual for this time of year,” Gillian Wright, an executive at SoCalGas, said in a statement.
The relationship between demand and price takes time to show, said Chris Higginbotham, a spokesman for the US Energy Information Administration. “When a certain storm comes along and pushes up the price of natural gas,” he said, “it usually takes some time for that effect to show up at the retail level.”
But demand is “one of the main drivers of wholesale natural gas prices,” Higginbotham said, and if a storm like the current one were to increase demand, it “could affect the price that utilities pay.” These costs would ultimately be passed on to consumers.
Data from USEIA shows that stored gas in the Pacific region is well below the five-year average, while all other regions of the country are near or above average. Those potential supply shortages could push prices further, Higginbotham said.
Customers, some looking for ways to save and others taking their frustration to social media, “tell us they’re doing what they can to save, including reducing their heating,” said Brian Haas, a Spokesman for SoCalGas.
Donna Biroczky, a social media marketer, is struggling to keep her home in Fontana warm. “Our bill this year was probably three times what it was last January,” she said.
She turned off her gas fireplaces and went with electric heaters and outfitted her home with “more blankets for people.” Biroczky, 57, has rheumatoid arthritis, which gets worse when temperatures drop. “Cold is my enemy,” she said.
She said skyrocketing prices for things that once felt affordable forced people to compromise. “People have to make a choice — can I afford expensive eggs or can I afford to stay warm?”
Haas said that alongside “some declines in residential usage,” SoCalGas has seen an increase in usage of assistance programs for low-income residents.
Several such assistance programs are available for those who cannot afford to stay warm in the storm.
The Gas Assistance Fund, funded by donations and administered by the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, can provide a one-time grant of up to $100 to help customers in need pay their bills.
California Alternative Rates for Energy, a utility for low-income residents, may offer a 20% rebate on natural gas payments.
SoCalGas also offers an overdue bill forgiveness plan of up to $8,000 if customers sign up and then pay their bills on time. With each full, on-time payment, the company forgives one-twelfth of eligible debt, allowing customers to pay off the debt in full in one year.
https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2023-02-22/socal-gas-bills-snowy-storms SoCal braces for brutal gas bills as snowy storms move in