HOUSTON - Some CenterPoint Energy customers say they're fuming about their natural gas bills.
CenterPoint says the higher bills are due to market conditions. But on top of inflation driving up the cost of living, some customers say these gas bills are blowing out their budgets.
"I got an email, 'Your bill is ready.' I was like, did I forget to pay last time? And the time before that? My bill averages around $20 to $30," said customer Shoshi Kaganovsky. But this time, Kaganovsky's bill was $124, including a $78 "gas cost adjustment."
"It really jumped at me, like where did it come from? What happened? I thought maybe I had a leak. But it adds up, this kind of thing, after inflation and a pandemic, where we're trying to recover," said Kaganovsky.
We reached out to CenterPoint Energy about these concerns.
CenterPoint sent us the following explanation:
"We recognize that there's been concern recently about the rising market price of natural gas. We're focused on this – but it's important to put it in context. The combination of reduced natural gas production and higher demand has caused the increased market prices we are seeing. Customer natural gas bills are not only affected by price; they are also affected by weather. A mild or cold winter can make a big difference on customers’ monthly heating bills - December 2021 was unusually warm; January 2022 was a cold month and more in line with normal winter weather and, therefore, contributed to higher usage.
"As stated on the bill, the Gas Cost Adjustment (GCA) line that appears on every monthly natural gas bill is the cost CenterPoint Energy pays for the gas we deliver to our customers. The price we pay for natural gas in the market is the same price we charge our customers, there is no mark-up or profit for CenterPoint Energy. In February, we adjusted the GCA from $0.61363 per cubic feet of natural gas to $0.74405 per cubic feet of natural gas, per our regular biannual rate adjustment process. The price customers pay depends on their consumption and the current natural gas prices."
It's important to note these higher gas bills do not include the higher cost of natural gas CenterPoint paid during the 2021 Texas Winter Storm.
CenterPoint says those costs will be added to customer bills later this year, but the state has agreed to let the company spread them over several monthly bills.
"The adjusted GCA on the bill does not include extraordinary natural gas costs from Winter Storm Uri last February.
"To ease the financial impact on our Texas natural gas customers from record natural gas prices during Winter Storm Uri, CenterPoint Energy filed an application with the Railroad Commission of Texas on July 30, 2021 to securitize these extraordinary natural gas costs. The Commission approved the filing this month. Therefore, the Texas Public Finance Authority will issue the customer rate-relief (CRR) bonds which we expect to happen in the second half of this year. All natural gas sales customer bills would begin to reflect the recovery of Winter Storm Uri costs upon the issuance of CRR bonds.
"This recovery option is designed for the company to recover its prudently incurred natural gas costs while protecting customers against unexpected increases on their monthly bills."
CenterPoint invites anyone struggling to pay a bill to contact them for possible payment options.
If you're a customer who has difficulty paying your natural gas bill, you can request a payment plan or extension by calling 713-659-2111 or 800-752-8036 or by visiting CenterPointEnergy.com/PaymentAssistance.
CenterPoint also offers steps to cut your natural gas usuage.
These agencies and organizations offer utility assistance: