SoCalGas: Business owners feel shock of sky-high bills as utility company says prices should drop

PASADENA, Calif. (KABC)– Many Southern California residents were stunned when they saw their latest SoCalGas bill, but it was even more shocking for business owners.

According to SoCalGas, the wholesale price of natural gas has skyrocketed this winter and is now up 128% from December through January.

Nate Pugh, who has owned Orange Grove Laundry in Pasadena for more than 20 years, and his January gas bill was nearly $10,000.

“It’s outrageous, and with the amount of dryers and the amount of hot water we use, it’s just unbelievable,” Pugh said.

Before January, Pugh said he paid between $3,000 and $4,000.

Meanwhile, Mark Toney, executive director of the Utilities Reform Network, is working to ensure utilities are clean, safe and affordable. He said people upset about the sudden increase in their SoCalGas bills should call California Public Utilities Commission meetings and express their anger.

In the meantime, Pugh tries not to shift that burden onto customers.

“You have no choice,” he said. “They have to come here, they have to wash their clothes, we are a necessity. It’s not like buying a watch. You must have your clothes washed. So it just seems like we’re raising the prices unfair to me.”

The utility says the wholesale prices it pays to buy gas in the commodity market fell 68% from record highs in January.

That doesn’t quite mean an equal drop in bills, as these customer rates also include costs like transportation and public fees. But SoCal Gas says if you paid $300 for your January bill, for example, you’d pay about $135 for the same usage in February.

“There will be ups and downs, you just have to pray it will come down and we’ll find a balance,” Pugh said. “Many private and commercial customers who are suffering right now. It’s going to be really tough for everyone.”

Meanwhile, Long Beach city leaders are trying to help those most in need of help to avoid being stuck with the prohibitive bills, several of which arrived at Wednesday night’s meeting.

“My elderly mom at home in Long Beach is freezing and afraid to turn on her heat because she can’t afford the monthly bill,” said one caller. “My little 4-year-old daughter says to me, ‘Mom, I’m cold,’ and I’m afraid our gas bill will be over $500.”

The city plans to give back to the people some of the extra gas tax revenue it received due to the price hike.

“We, too, need to tighten our belts and find ways to manage these costs,” said Tom Modica, Long Beach City manager. “We feel that this special money should be channeled back into a rebate program.”

The vote was passed unanimously and will now go to the city’s supply office.

CLOCK | Long Beach SoCalGas customers may receive billing help soon

Here are some tips to help you reduce gas consumption:

Lower your thermostat by 3 to 5 degrees. This can save up to 10% on heating costs.

Apply appropriate caulking and weatherstripping to doors and windows. You can save up to 15%.

Another 10% can be saved by washing clothes in cold water.

Reduce the temperature on water heaters.

Limit the use of non-essential natural gas appliances such as spas and fireplaces.

SoCal Gas has more tips and programs to help you pay your bills here.

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