Many El Pasoans are sweating at the price of their residential heating bills this month with some Texas Gas Service customers facing payments of up to $400.
Some bills were so surprising, El Pasoans took to social media like the Nextdoor app, a platform where neighbors connect, to see if anyone else was experiencing the same sticker shock.
“Horrible gas bill, biggest we have ever had,” one neighbor said. Another responded, “Yes mine was $200 too, 3X the normal amount.” The comments from about 130 residents in West El Paso and Upper Valley neighborhoods poured in, all in response to a post by Norma Dueñas.
In an email response to El Paso Matters, Texas Gas Service spokesperson Safeena Walji said the spike is occurring because of two main factors: a 20% increase in the cost of natural gas in December and a cold month.
“In January the bill was $380 – I couldn’t believe it,” Dueñas said in an interview with El Paso Matters. “I thought they were charging me two months at the same time.”
Dueñas said she is concerned if the bills keep rising it will wipe out the extra income she got from a better paying teacher job she recently started.
Her monthly bill during the summer months is typically in the $40 range, she said. It climbed 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 the average temperature in December 2021 being 52.7 degrees. In 2022 it was 48.9 degrees – although still much warmer than historic averages because of climate change – which means people would have needed more energy to warm their homes.
The number of “heating degree days” – a measure used by meteorologists to estimate changing energy needs based on temperatures – was a third higher in El Paso in December 2022 than the same month in 2021.
The market price for natural gas is something Texas Gas Service does not set, Walji said.
In December 2021 the spot price of natural gas was $3.76 per million British thermal unit, or the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a pound of water 1 degree. In December 2022 the price went up to $5.53 per million BTU – an increase of about 47%, according to government data.
“We purchase the gas from suppliers and then deliver it to customers’ homes and businesses. The price we pay the suppliers for gas is the price customers pay (there is no markup), and we continuously work to secure the lowest gas prices for our customers,” she 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 consolidation of three service areas into one extensive 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 Panhandle towns of Border/Skelly and the North Texas service areas, but disproportionately increase the rates for the El Paso region, according to a presentation given to the City Council Nov. 22.
The presentation made to the El Paso City Council shows that if the consolidation occurs the utility would collect about $18 million to make up for current revenue deficiencies from the El Paso area. But according to the plan, Texas Gas would only collect about $415,000 from the Borger/Skelly town Service Area and the would 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 by about $4.39 a month, or about 12.4% and the average bill for large residential customers would increase by about $7.01 a month – a 13.7% increase, according to the Texas Gas filing. The customer size is related to the amount of natural gas consumed per month.
Commercial customers could see an increase of $10.46 per month, or a 6% increase.
The City Council during a scathing public hearing on the utility’s plan voted unanimously on 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 excessively high and discriminate against the customers within the city of El Paso and in the West Texas service area generally.”
The Railroad Commission of Texas, the state agency that regulates the oil and gas industry and gas utilities, is set to make a final ruling on the proposed increase Jan. 27.
Correction: A photo caption in an earlier version of the story incorrectly suggested that a current Texas Gas Service rate request was connected to Winter Storm Uri in 2021. The caption referred to an earlier rate case.