Many El Pasoans are sweating the price of their residential heating bills this month and some Texas Gas Service customers are facing payments of up to $400.
Some bills were so startling that El Pasoans took to social media like the Nextdoor app, a platform where neighbors connect, to see if anyone else was experiencing the same shock.
“Horrible gas bill, the biggest we’ve ever had,” said a neighbor. Another replied: “Yes, mine was $200, 3 times the normal amount.” Comments poured in from about 130 residents in the West El Paso and Upper Valley neighborhoods, all in response to a post by Norma Dueñas.
In an email response to El Paso Matters, Texas Gas Service spokeswoman Safeena Walji said the increase is due to two main factors: a 20 percent increase in the cost of natural gas in December and a cold month.
“In January the bill was for $380, I couldn’t believe it,” Dueñas said in an interview with El Paso Matters. “I thought they were charging me for two months at the same time.”
Dueñas said she worries that if receipts continue to rise, the extra income she earned from a better-paying teaching job she recently started will dry up.
Her monthly bill during the summer months is typically in the $40 range, she said. She rose to $49 in November and $191 in December before nearing $400 in January for her three-bedroom home in West El Paso, she said.
This December was colder than last year with an average December 2021 temperature of 52.7 degrees (11.5 Celsius). In 2022 it was 48.9 degrees (9.4 Celsius), though still much warmer than historical averages due to climate change, meaning people would have needed more energy to heat their homes.
The number of “heating degree days,” a measure used by meteorologists to estimate changing energy needs based on temperatures, was one-third higher in El Paso in December 2022 than it was in the same month in 2021.
The market price for natural gas is something that Texas Gas Service does not set, Walji said.
In December 2021, the spot price for natural gas was $3.76 per million British Thermal Units (BTUs), or the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one pound of water by 1 degree. In December 2022, the price rose to $5.53 per million BTUs, an increase of about 47 percent, according to government data.
“We buy the gas from suppliers and then deliver it to customers’ homes and businesses. The price we pay suppliers for gas is the price customers pay (there is no markup), and we continually work to secure the lowest gas prices for our customers,” he said.
Proposed rate increase
The December increase is not tied to a recent rate increase request by Texas Gas Service.
In June, Texas Gas Service proposed a rate increase and the consolidation of three service areas into one large service area called the West Texas Service Area. The new service area would combine El Paso with sections of the Texas Panhandle and North Texas. The rate changes would generate an additional $13 million in revenue for the utility, according to the Texas Gas filing.
However, the consolidation would, in part, lower natural gas rates for the towns of Borger/Skellytown in the Panhandle and North Texas service areas, but disproportionately increase rates for the El Paso region, according to a filing. made before the municipal council on November 22.
The presentation made to the El Paso City Council shows that if consolidation occurs, the utility would raise about $18 million to make up for current revenue shortfalls in the El Paso area. But under the plan, Texas Gas would only collect about $415,000 from the City of Borger/Skellytown service area and reduce revenue deficiency collections from the North Texas Service Area by about $5 million.
The average gas bill for small residential customers in El Paso would increase about $4.39 a month, or about 12.4 percent, and the average bill for large residential customers would increase about $7.01 a month, an increase of 13.7 percent, according to the Texas Gas filing. The size of the customer is related to the amount of natural gas consumed per month.
Business customers could see an increase of $10.46 per month, or a 6 percent increase.
The City Council during a scathing public hearing on the utility’s plan voted unanimously Nov. 22 to deny the proposed rate increase. The Council also authorized the City Attorney’s Office to fight the proposed increase citing that the rates “are unreasonably high and discriminate against customers within the City of El Paso and in the West Texas Service Area as a whole.” ”.
The Texas Railroad Commission, the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry and gas utilities, will issue a final decision on the proposed increase on January 27.