New Mexico

Congressman asks energy supplier for help with gas prices

Congressman Gabe Vasquez from southern New Mexico responded to rising natural gas prices in his district Monday by sending an open letter to utility Symmetry Energy Solutions asking for an explanation for rising heating costs and a way to to lower prices again.

“It worries me that residents who rely on nature to clean their homes in the dead of winter could be forced to make difficult choices between paying their electric bills and putting food on the table,” the Democrat wrote Las Cruces.

The unit price of natural gas, which the city acquired from northern New Mexico’s San Juan Basin, rose 70 percent from November through December, followed by an even bigger jump the following month as Luna County experienced colder weather and $3.70 per unit exceeded.

Last week, the city announced it would take $1.5 million from its gas supply fund to absorb $2.42 per unit billed to customers that month, or 65 percent of what was reported unit price.

Vasquez asked the supplier about specific factors behind the recent price increases and how they could be lowered in time for February billing.

“How are you working with the City of Deming and Las Cruces to ensure my constituents, particularly middle-to-low income families who cannot afford these exorbitant prices, continue to have access to your vital energy?” the congressman wrote.

The city is negotiating with Symmetry for a long-term, fixed-price contract. At a local council meeting Jan. 10, Aaron Sera said the city had proposed a four-year rate of 52 cents per unit, but last week Mayor Benny Jasso indicated that negotiations are ongoing for a 12-month contract at an unspecified rate be.

In a statement, Vasquez, who began his first term as New Mexico’s 2nd congressional district representative in January, said he was looking for an explanation for the region’s increase in natural gas costs, which follows a statewide trend that has been more acute in the Southwest and West Coastal States during the winter. He also sought the company’s support to lower the price in the long term, noting in particular Luna County’s high poverty rate.

Official portrait of Congressman Gabe Vasquez of New Mexico

“Families shouldn’t have to choose between keeping their house warm or putting food on the table,” he said. “Cooking food and boiling water, taking warm showers and heating our homes in winter is not a luxury but a necessity.”

Las Cruces Utilities reported last week that it was also forced to source power from the San Juan Basin due to supply problems at its supplier in the Permian Basin of eastern New Mexico and western Texas.

Supply problems are compounded by maintenance issues in Kinder Morgan’s El Paso pipeline system. Demand is also higher this year from West Coast states buying natural gas to make up for shortages of hydroelectric power. Statewide storage problems have been documented by the US Energy Information Administration.

However, market trends showed that national natural gas prices and futures moved lower on Monday, with forecasts for milder weather in February and lower demand.

LCU promised payment plans to allow customers to pay their energy bills. The City of Deming has yet to provide specific payment plans, but has reminded residents that under New Mexico law, gas supplies will not be interrupted between November 15 and March 15. City has scheduled public town hall for February 15 Share new information on gas bill crisis.

The shock over local gas bills spread across the city on Monday and Tuesday last week as the statements to residents and businesses arrived. Residential customers have reported huge jumps in their electric bills caused by gas, with some reporting totals ranging from $800 to over $1,000; while some companies reported unsustainable bills in excess of $5,000.

Last week, the city closed City Hall, where many customers pay their bills in person, to the public for three business days after telephone threats against city officials.

Vasquez, a former member of the Las Cruces City Council, was elected to the US House of Representatives last November. He was appointed to the House Agriculture and Defense Services Committees and joined the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Algernon D’Ammassa can be reached at [email┬áprotected]

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