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 insists it does not profit from these price fluctuations. 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.”
San Diego Gas & Electric is also a subsidiary of Sempra.
The spike in natural gas prices in Southern California comes at a time when other parts of the nation have seen prices plunge, in some cases hitting a 17-month low.
Attempts to reach SoCalGas for comment Friday were unsuccessful.
The utility company 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.
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