A spike in the cost of natural gas in December led to some inflated bills for Long Beach residents.

The City of Long Beach announced Monday that thanks to conservation efforts that have seen the average household natural gas usage decrease by more than 70 percent since the early 1970s, the city’s residential customers have the lowest natural gas bills in the State of California.

“I’m proud that we are able to provide the lowest gas bills in the State, and I’m proud that Long Beach residents have been leaders in energy conservation,” said Mayor Robert Garcia in a statement. “Not only does that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help improve air quality, it means lower utility bills for our customers.”

According to the release, a recent survey of five other utilities that provide natural gas in California confirmed that Long Beach utility customers had the lowest average gas bills in 2014. Other contributing factors include improved energy efficiency standards for buildings and appliances and gas supply contracts that have taken advantage of low commodity prices.

Last year, the average monthly residential gas bill from Long Beach’s gas utility was $29.59, which is 15 percent lower than what the average gas bill with similar gas usage would have been from the following utilities: Southwest Gas, $41.99; City of Palo Alto, $35.37; San Diego Gas & Electric, $33.95; Pacific Gas and Electric $31.57; and Southern California Gas Company, $30.43.

Furthermore, due to the lower trend of current commodity prices, the average Long Beach residential gas bill in 2015 is projected to be only $26.08, a 42 percent decrease from 2000, when the average Long Beach residential gas bill was $44.66, according to the City of Long Beach.

“Our customers have done their part by making the effort to conserve energy and are saving real dollars every month by doing so,” said Chris Garner, director of Long Beach Gas and Oil (LBGO), in a statement. “It is our job to continue to work hard to provide our customers with natural gas in a safe and reliable manner at the lowest possible price.”

He said LBGO has been providing natural gas to Long Beach, as well as Signal Hill, for over 90 years and it is their goal to continue to be the best utility company in California.

According to the city, almost 90 percent of today’s residential customers’ usage of natural gas is for space heating and heating water, with the remaining used for cooking, clothes dryers, and pools or spas. Meanwhile, water conservation efforts in Long Beach have reduced the natural gas required for heating water, and the mild winters of the past few years have tempered the use of natural gas for space heating.

LBGO’s rates for gas service to its customers are set by the Long Beach City Council, which allows for direct responsiveness to the needs of our community, whereas rates for private gas utilities are set by politically appointed Commissioners at the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco.

The City Charter requires that LBGO’s gas rates be market-based rather than cost-based, a significant provision as the utility is not allowed to simply pass through increasing operational costs to its customers as LBGO’s rates are effectively “capped” by the rates being charged by surrounding private gas utilities. This incentivizes LBGO to minimize its costs to remain competitive.

The fixed, minimum charge for LBGO’s residential gas service has remained unchanged for over 20 years and is lower than it was nearly 30 years ago. In addition, LBGO long ago implemented tiered rates so that efficient users who conserve the use of natural gas are financially “rewarded” through lower applicable gas rates.

According to the release, 15 years ago it was expensive to transport the gas commodity hundreds of miles over pipelines from other states and Canada (California must import about 85 percent of its needed supplies from other regions), due to gas supplies declining and rising commodity prices.

Up until about 2006, the nation’s production of natural gas was declining to the extent the United States was actively pursuing the expensive import of natural gas from other countries overseas. Since that time, natural gas production has increased substantially due to technological improvements in exploration and drilling techniques, while the growth in supply of domestic natural gas has significantly lowered the commodity prices since that year.

According to the release, LBGO has negotiated supply contracts that provide both long-term supply reliability along with favorable price terms in order to take full advantage of low commodity prices currently available. Long Beach and Signal Hill residents reap the financial benefits of these lower prices because LBGO passes through the monthly commodity price directly to its customers.

While unpredictable circumstances can quickly disrupt the market, resulting in higher prices, LBGO has also entered into financial price hedge agreements that provide its customers protection against the chance of unexpected high prices.

On the horizon, LBGO will soon initiate the first phase of installing a state-of-the-art Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) program of “smart meters” for the company’s entire system of 150,000 natural gas meters, so that customers will be able to access their individual gas patterns of usage on a real-time basis from their home computers or smartphones.

LBGO announced that the utility is proud of its role in helping to facilitate these efforts on behalf of its customers and looks forward to continuing to safely provide essential natural gas services at the lowest reasonable prices possible.

Asia Morris is a Long Beach native covering arts and culture for the Long Beach Post. You can reach her @hugelandmass on Twitter and Instagram and at [email protected].