Residents shocked to find utility bill three times higher than prior month
PROVO, Utah — You expect to see increases in your natural gas bill during the colder winter months.
For dozens of Brigham Young University students living in off-campus housing, they got a big surprise on their most recent utility bill.
Wade Pickett was one of them.
“I don’t know how you can go from $40 last month to $123 this month,” Pickett said.
That was just his portion of the monthly utility bill for his four-bedroom apartment at Alpine Village in Provo. He shares the space with three roommates, who got the same bills. Add it up, and the four were charged $492 for utilities for one month.
“They’ve increased it by over [three times] and are kind of giving us really shady answers as to why that’s happening,” Pickett said.
KSL Investigators heard from nearly 30 residents of Alpine Village, venting the same frustrations of big utility bills. Some asked for itemized bills and found the culprit was natural gas. Pickett was perplexed, as he and his roommates claim they did not use an abnormal amount of gas in the previous month.
“We don’t even have a gas stove,” he said.
Pickett texted Redstone Residential, which manages Alpine Village. The response he got back said, “we did have someone from Provo City come out and recheck everyone’s meters, and he did confirm it was correct,” and that it was “a problem all throughout Provo.” This left Pickett and his roommates on the hook for the big bill.
“I’m a college student and I’m living off of a budget,” Pickett said. “I didn’t budget to spend an extra $40 on utilities.”
Fluctuating Gas Rates
KSL Investigators reached out to Provo City, who said they only provide electricity for Alpine Village, not gas.
When we asked Redstone about the bill, Jake Jarman, the company’s president, sent us a statement:
Alpine Village uses a 3rd party natural gas provider which typically charges rates lower than Dominion. Our residents have always enjoyed lower gas bills than their counterparts at other communities. Due to the demand on natural gas the last few months (both global and local) the rates for natural gas skyrocketed and the invoices sent to Alpine Village were much higher than usual.
Our processor uploaded the invoices per the normal procedure and residents were charged amounts that they should not have been charged. Those charges have been fixed and residents will be paying their normal amount for gas charges. The residents have been notified that the problem has been addressed.
In an email to residents, Redstone Residential said they would be “working closely with the gas supplier to lock in a contract that will guarantee usage rates will not increase above a certain amount in the future.”
The gas price squeeze has been stronger in western states than the rest of the country.
Thanks to frigid temperatures, increased snowfall, and increased demands from other states, natural gas prices exceeded $50 per million British thermal units in December, averaging $48.12 above the industry benchmark.
Using third-party providers
While most households get their gas from Dominion Energy, which is regulated through the Utah Division of Public Utilities, some get their gas as transportation customers. This means they buy their gas from the market, paying Dominion only for the transportation of product.
According to Melanie Hall, spokesperson for the Division of Public Utilities, “Dominion has a number of hedging programs that manage risk to balance the desire for low-cost gas with protection against large swings in market prices.”
Hall went on to write, transportation customers are “subject to market swings. As with most businesses, those transportation customers will generally pass the costs and benefits of their market risk along to their customers. This can be more complicated for a landlord than for some other businesses.”
Hall’s advice for tenants wishing to avoid getting stuck with those risks was “clear disclosure of an agreement’s terms and diligent review of them by all parties involved.”
A spokesperson for Dominion Energy told us the average Utah household has seen a $25 increase on their gas bill over the last two years.
Have you experienced something you think just isn’t right? The KSL Investigators want to help. Submit your tip at firstname.lastname@example.org or 385-707-6153 so we can get working for you.
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