Brace yourself before you open that utility bill: Customers up and down the state have been reporting sky-high prices and sticker shock at the sight of their January energy bills. There’s little indication of when prices could fall.
PG&E said in late January that a combination of high demand and tight energy supply on the West Coast is now slated to drive customers’ bills 32% higher this winter, as opposed to the 24% it originally projected earlier in the month. But anecdotally, some customers report that their bills doubled.
Shane Phillips, an urban planner who lives in Los Angeles, said he got an email from his utility warning him of the price increases to come. But when his January energy bill came in at $372—almost double the amount he paid the prior month—it came as a shock.
“If I had known, I probably would have adjusted my behavior a little bit,” Phillips said.
So Cal Gas, PG&E’s counterpart in Southern California, and its customers are facing the same problem as PG&E customers, reporting a more than 300% increase in gas rates as compared to last year.
The increase in gas rates also collided with cold weather and historic January storms that had many Californians cranking up the heat. Gas prices in California were around five times higher than the rest of the nation in January.
The utility says customers should prepare for increases of $54 per month for gas and $25 per month for electricity compared to last year—and asserts that consumer prices are largely out of its control.
“Like other utility companies, PG&E does not control the market prices it pays for gas and electricity nor does PG&E mark up the cost of the energy it purchases on behalf of its customers,” the utility wrote in a January press release.
There may be a small measure of relief coming soon for customers. The California Public Utilities Commission is set to vote Feb. 2 to consider moving up distribution of the state’s annual Climate Credit, which is set to total nearly $100 for PG&E customers who buy both gas and electricity, to help alleviate high bills. PG&E said it supports the move.
One thing PG&E does control is its annual rate change, which went into effect Jan. 1. That accounts for factors like inflation as well as the utility’s efforts to harden its infrastructure against wildfire risk; the rate change increased electricity bills by around 3% while actually decreasing gas bills by nearly 5%.
But customers wouldn’t know it, as high gas market prices passed on to customers dwarfed the minor rate cuts.
Phillips said he regrets not looking more closely at an electric air conditioning system when he had a new one installed five years ago.
But for now, he’s got the thermostat at a sensible 67 degrees as he waits for prices to fall.
“There’s roughly a million things I'd rather be spending this [money] on,” Phillips said.