After enduring emotional and often scathing public comment, state regulators on Thursday ordered utilities to immediately distribute funds to lower natural gas bills that have become unaffordable for many Californians this winter.
The Climate Credits, which are typically issued in April, will reduce home heating bills by $43 to $56 for most Californians based on their natural gas provider.
“It’s 48 degrees in my home because of the $600 bill I received on (my) limited budget,” one senior citizen, who was forced to shut off her home heat, told members of the California Public Utilities Commission during their virtual meeting Thursday. “It’s outrageous and my neighbors are suffering in the same way.”
“The corruption level in California has reached an all-time high,” said another woman, blasting both commissioners and utility companies.
“It’s 61 degrees in my house right now. I’m wearing three layers and a beanie,” another commenter told the panel. “But I have a good feeling that y’all get to be warm in your homes.”
A combination of factors has caused natural gas bills to soar to two or three (or more) times what they were in January 2022.
Among them, below normal temperatures in the western U.S. which has led to higher demand, lower natural gas imports from Canada, pipeline issues in West Texas and low storage levels in the Pacific region, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
“It’s very concerning that so many customers are struggling to pay their bills, and we hear you that immediate relief is needed,” CPUC president Alice Busching Reynolds said, acknowledging the credit alone would not be enough to cover the current spike.
SoCalGas, the largest distributor of natural gas in California and nationwide, says it does not set the price for natural gas and does not profit when prices spike. It issued a warning to customers in late December 2022 as temperatures dropped and gas supplies cratered.
“We support the CPUC’s swift action to accelerate the Climate Credit for SoCalGas customers, who are in need of relief from the market forces that have led to these unusually high bills,” said SoCalGas Senior Vice President and Chief Customer Officer Gillian Wright in a statement. “We know our customers have been feeling the effects of high gas prices acutely and this action, combined with lower market prices in February, will provide some relief.”
2023 Natural Gas California Climate Credits (typically issued in April)
Funding for the Climate Credits are generated by a state program that requires power plants, natural gas companies and other large industries that emit greenhouse gases to buy carbon permits through the Air Resources Board.
In early January, SoCalGas contributed $1 million to its Gas Assistance Fund, which offers one-time grants of up to $100 for qualifying customers.