By Marc Sternfield, KTLA 5
January 20, 2023
A consumer advocacy group is asking California’s attorney general to investigate why SoCalGas customers have seen their natural gas bills soar to record highs this winter, and whether the utility’s parent company is improperly profiting.
“Southern California Gas doubled consumers’ natural gas bills with virtually no notice, leaving its customers with large, unexpected bills,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, in a letter to Rob Bonta Thursday. “They are now forced to choose between paying their utility bills and their rent, food costs, and other monthly obligations with no warning.”
According to SoCalGas, which serves most of Southern California, prices are running about five times higher than last January due to market forces, supply issues and cold-than-normal weather along the West Coast.
The utility, which warned customers about the looming spike in late December, insists it does not profit from these price fluctuations.
“While we don’t set these prices (they’re set by regional and national markets), nor does SoCalGas actually profit from rising prices, we want our customers to know that we understand that this may be a shock and a hardship for some,” the utility said at the time.
Consumer Watchdog, however, claims SoCalGas’s parent company, San Diego-based Sempra, is indeed reaping higher profits at the expense of Californians.
“While the utility has made natural gas available to its customers as it is required to do, it has purchased gas at unreasonably high prices, with higher profits for So Cal Gas’s parent company SEMPRA, that sells natural gas to So Cal Gas through its other subsidiaries,” the letter read. “We believe So Cal Gas’s conduct in implementing natural gas rate hikes may constitute an unfair business practice and we are calling upon you to investigate.”
The California Attorney General’s Office says it is closely monitoring the market but would not comment directly on Consumer Watchdog’s allegations.
“We are unable to comment on, even to confirm or deny, a potential or ongoing investigation,” a spokesperson said late Friday. “We encourage anyone with information regarding potential violations of the law to contact our office at oag.ca.gov/complaints or by calling our Public Inquiry Unit at (800) 952-5225.”
SoCalGas referred KTLA to government data which shows U.S. natural gas consumption hitting a record high in late December 2022 as supplies cratered.
(U.S. Energy Information Administration)
The utility recently announced a $1 million contribution to its Gas Assistance Fund, which provides grants of up to $100 to qualifying customers. SoCalGas has also announced it is delaying collections on overdue accounts until April 1 and will not disconnect customers during the first half of the year.