Mitch Englander during visit to SoCalGas storage facility (photo: Al Seib, Getty Images)
By Matt Reynolds, Courthouse News Service
LOS ANGELES (CN) - A Los Angeles city councilman wants state regulators to investigate claims that SoCalGas customers have received unusually high energy bills during the company's Aliso Canyon gas leak.
Councilman Mitch Englander, who represents District 12, introduced a resolution to the city council on Tuesday asking California Public Utilities Commission to take a closer look at rate increases across the county.
The full city council is scheduled to vote on the resolution on Feb. 10.
Reports emerged last week that residents in Huntington Beach, Chino, La Crescenta, Granada Hills, Corona and other areas have complained their SoCalGas bills are higher than normal.
Englander said that officials across LA have received calls from SoCalGas customers about "abnormally high bills," and linked the rate increases to the leak at the energy company's natural gas storage facility in Northridge.
"This bill-spiking comes at a time when SoCalGas is experiencing a major disaster at its Aliso Canyon facility," Englander said in a prepared statement. "I am simply not buying that these two incidents are not related. It appears that the entire Los Angeles basin is now feeling the effects of the Aliso Canyon gas leak."
SoCalGas spokeswoman Kristine Lloyd said that high bills are in no way related to the gas leak and referred Courthouse News to a prepared statement that says unusually cold weather explains the increases.
It states: "Higher winter bills are due to a combination of factors, but are mostly a result of November and December 2015 being the coldest since 2011. During cold snaps like this our customers tend to use more natural gas to heat their homes and water."
Noting that December and January are on average the coldest months, the company said that customers typically used three to seven times more natural gas during the winter.
Home heating can account for half of a customer's bill while the water heater can account for another 25 percent, the company says.
Englander said that customers had complained that their bills had doubled, tripled, quadrupled or increased "six-fold" and that SoCalGas' explanation does not "pass the smell test."
"We have many vacant homes in Porter Ranch where people aren't even living there. Forty-five hundred families have moved out and yet their bills are higher. They're not even there, they're vacant homes. So if it's strictly related to the usage then why are those bills up?" Englander said during a phone interview.
"While it might be a cold snap and colder than it has been in the last five years, it certainly doesn't seem justifiable where it's gone up six-fold," he added.
Citing the botched rollout of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power's billing system that led to tens of millions of dollars in overcharges, Englander said that a flaw in recently installed meter technology might also explain the increases.
"We want to see if there's any errors that could have triggered in these high bills," Englander said.
The California Public Utilities Commission regulates privately owned electric and natural gas companies and is one of the state agencies involved in an investigation of the natural gas leak that was first detected on Oct. 23, 2015.