MAGNOLIA, Texas – Natural gas prices are up everywhere, but people in Magnolia were floored when they received gas bills hundreds of dollars more than normal.
Customers received the bills in January and when they tried to get answers from the gas company, they said they got nowhere. Doug and Irma Patterson received their EPCOR gas bill in January.
“When we turned around and got the bill, it was like, ‘How did they get to this value?’” said Doug Patterson.
Here’s a look at the Patterson family gas bill:
November = $117
December = $734
Why is the bill so much higher? EPCOR says it’s because of the volumetric fee.
Volumetric Fee = 158% increase
November $1.14 per 100 cubic feet of gas
December $2.93 per 100 cubic feet of gas
Patterson asked EPCOR why that fee had such a large impact.
“And then they said, ‘Well, the reason it might be higher is that it’s been a warm winter.’ of course, that’s a little bit counterintuitive,” said Patterson.
KPRC 2 Investigates found gas companies are allowed to recover their fixed costs, like equipment and pipes, every year from customers.
Natural gas bills include an estimate of use
EPCOR estimates how much gas they think customers will use based on the historical gas usage during those colder months. However, if EPCOR customers don’t use as much as predicted, state regulators allow companies a “Weather Normalization Adjustment.”
Texas saw higher temperatures in November, which meant EPCOR customers used less gas than usual. So, EPCOR compared the historical usage against the actual usage to come up with the volumetric fee increase of 158%.
“By the way, we hadn’t gotten enough money, we’re just going to adjust the rate in one month, and basically nail all the consumers,” said Patterson.
We stopped by Magnolia City Hall to try and get some answers about these bills, but even the city manager said he couldn’t get answers when he called EPCOR to complain about his own bill.
EPCOR’s response about high bills
An EPCOR spokesperson told KPRC 2 Investigates by email that the company uses a weather normalization adjustment, a formula to change the volumetric rate in rate every December, January, and February. She said because February was colder than normal, the volumetric fee is decreasing and it will be roughly 82 cents per 100 cubic feet.
“The normal approach would be to spread things out, not to turn around and just all of a sudden increase the factor as much as they did,” said Patterson.
Other gas companies do spread their fees out to cover their fixed costs over several months to lessen the burden on customers, but EPCOR said it would be difficult for them to do that. The Railroad Commission is the state agency that regulates gas companies and a spokesperson confirmed that it approved EPCOR’s rates back in 2020.
The commission has received about a dozen complaints about EPCOR this year.
How to file a complaint about a gas company
You can contact the Railroad Commission of Texas to file a complaint on a gas company.
Online Customer Complaint Form. Toll: 1-877-228-5740. Complaint Line: 512-463-7164.