SoCalGas: Business owners stunned by sky-high bills as utility says prices should drop

Pasadena, California (KABC) — Many Southern California residents were stunned when they saw their most recent SoCalGas bill, but it was even more shocking for business owners.

Wholesale natural gas prices have soared this winter, rising 128% from December to January alone, SoCalGas said.

Nate Pugh, who has owned Orange Grove Laundry in Pasadena for more than 20 years, has a January gas bill of close to $10,000.

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

Before January, Pugh said he was paying $3,000 to $4,000.

Meanwhile, Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, is working to ensure utilities are clean, safe and affordable. People upset about the sudden rise in SoCalGas bills need to call a California Public Utilities Commission meeting to air their outrage, he said.

Meanwhile, Pugh is trying not to place that burden on clients.

“They have no choice,” he said. “They have to come here, they have to do the laundry, we’re a necessity. It’s not like buying a watch. You have to do the laundry. So it seems unfair to me that we raise prices because of that.”

The utility said the wholesale rate it pays to get natural gas on the commodity market has fallen 68% from an all-time high in January.

That doesn’t quite translate into an equivalent drop in bills, since those customer rates also include costs like transportation and utility charges. But SoCal Gas says that if you paid $300 on your January bill, for example, you’ll pay about $135 for the same amount of 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. “A lot of residential and commercial customers are suffering right now. It’s been very tough for everyone.”

Meanwhile, in Long Beach, city leaders, some of whom were at the meeting Wednesday night, are seeking to help those most in need to avoid having to be stranded with bills they can’t afford.

“My older mom is freezing at home in Long Beach and can’t turn on her heat because she can’t pay her bills every month,” said one caller. “My little 4-year-old told me, ‘Mom, I’m cold,’ and I’m worried our gas bill will be over $500.”

The city’s plan is to return some of the extra gas tax revenue it gets from the price spikes back to the people.

“We also need to tighten our belts and find ways to cover these costs,” Long Beach City Manager Tom Modica said. “We do feel that this particular amount of money should be returned to a kickback-type program.”

The vote was unanimous and will now go to the city’s utilities.

WATCH | Long Beach SoCalGas customers may soon get bill help

Here are some tips to help you reduce your gas usage:

Turn down the thermostat 3 to 5 degrees. This saves up to 10% on your heating bills.

Install proper caulking and weatherstripping around windows and doors. It can save you up to 15%.

You can also save 10% by washing your clothes in cold water.

Turn down the temperature on your water heater.

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 bill here.

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