Utahns question large increases in natural gas bills
Aug 29, 2023, 10:32 PM | Updated: 10:41 pm
OREM, Utah — Val Gunnell isn’t usually surprised by his monthly natural gas bill.
His August statement from Dominion Energy was a big surprise, showing a 39% increase in his bill from the prior month, from $69 to $96.
“We’re not doing anything that is extraordinarily using more natural gas than just meeting the everyday needs,” Gunnell said, noting that he uses less gas during summer months.
To avoid big swings in his utility bills, Gunnell enrolled in Dominion’s voluntary budget billing program. His gas usage is estimated every six months and averaged into equal monthly payments.
He’s been enrolled on the plan for ten years, and said he’s never seen a payment swing this big.
“In ten years, this is a bigger change than we’ve ever had,” said Gunnell. “Now, we’re almost $100. Within the last 12 months, our equal pay was $52. If you double the expenses, it becomes ever more challenging.”
KSL Investigators received similar calls and emails from many Utahns, all saying they got double-digit increases on their budget billing statements. They lamented natural gas prices have come down considerably in the past several months nationally and asked us to investigate why the bills have increased.
We contacted Dominion Energy. Its spokesperson declined to speak with us on camera, but sent a detailed statement by email regarding the higher bills, pointing to “cold weather events that increase usage” and “reduced national gas production” as contributing factors to “gas prices that were higher than expected.”
For balance bill customers like Gunnell, they indicated it’s likely they “underpaid” for their natural gas this past winter, saying, “This increase to budget billing monthly payment was significantly higher than in previous years, because even if the customer used the same amount of gas, the gas-cost increases we’ve experienced have caused most customer bills to increase.”
“The previous monthly payment was not enough to account for this increase, which left the account with a large balance,” the spokesperson continued. “It’s also worth noting that this past winter was about 4% colder than normal, so natural gas usage may have been higher for some customers.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, natural gas prices spiked nationally in August 2022. While current Henry Hub prices list $2.59 per MMBtu, prices are higher in western states. The California average lists 17% higher than the Henry Hub price.
Production from natural gas in the mountain region saw increased demand from California, which was hit with frequent, massive snowstorms last winter. This demand contributed to increased prices in Utah.
Dominion’s spokesperson indicated more information is coming directly to those budget billing customers explaining the price hike, but clarified, “We do not make a profit on the gas we provide to customers. The prices we pay for natural gas are passed on to the customers with no markup.”
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