Long Beach utility customers opening their bills this month will see a spike in charges for natural gas, an issue that could get worse over the next billing cycle as supply shortages, rain storms and colder weather will continue to drive up prices.
Prices of natural gas have shot up in recent months with the amount charged per therm—a unit equal to 100 cubic feet of natural gas—doubling from November to December and tripling from December to January.
The cost of one therm in November was about 77 cents. The cost of a therm this month, which would be reflected on customers’ next bill, is $3.81. The Long Beach Utilities Department, which serves Long Beach and Signal Hill, said that the average single-family home could see an increase of $200 or more.
“This pricing is the highest we’ve ever seen in Long Beach and is a 20-year high in the state,” said Lauren Howland, a spokesperson for Long Beach Utilities.
Howland said there are a number of issues contributing to high costs, like the unusually cold weather leading more people to use natural gas to heat their homes, maintenance on some pipelines and the depleted local reserves due to the 2015 leak at the Aliso Canyon storage facility, which was the second largest in the United States.
A big contributor, though, is the fact that the United States is exporting liquified natural gas to European countries that have suffered from reduced natural gas flowing from a pipeline connected to Russia, which is entering its second year of war with Ukraine.
“Interestingly enough, this issue is also tied to the drought,” Howland said. “Suppliers have been using 14% more natural gas to produce electricity because hydroelectricity has struggled through the drought.“
Customers on social media this week reported bills tripling and quadrupling from last month but the Utility Department said that the price increases are expected to be temporary.
Long Beach voters recently approved a merger of its Water Department with its gas utility, which had previously been housed in the city’s Energy Resources Department. Howland said that under the new model, the department might be able to leverage some savings for customers and that the new leadership is immediately looking at ways to save money for its customers.
“Our customers are understandably shocked by these high market prices suddenly experienced throughout Southern California,” Long Beach Utilities General Manager Chris Garner said in a statement. “While there are legitimate market forces that have resulted in the cost increase, that does not ease the financial impact to our residents, who rely on natural gas to heat their homes, cook their food and warm their showers.”
The department is recommending some ways customers can save on their next bill by cutting back on natural gas use. That could come through taking shorter hot showers or using cold water when doing laundry at home.
Turning down the thermostat to 68 degrees or lower and warming your home with natural sunlight during the day can also help.
For those struggling to pay their bills, Howland said the department can help get them on a payment plan that can lessen the financial impact that higher natural gas prices can have over the next few months.
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