Gas bills causing some jaws to drop
Residents and business owners this month are ripping open their gas bills to find some eye-popping numbers. As reported by the Tribune last month, energy costs with both Southwest Gas and Avista have gone up, as much as 40 percent in some places.
Roy Summersgill, a South Shore resident and employee at Super 8 Motel, said the energy bills have caught his attention.
“Sure, I noticed it, it’s almost a 25 percent increase. If you didn’t notice it, you’re blind,” said Summersgill.
The average winter bill for a resident on the California side of the Lake Tahoe Basin using 88 therms will climb from $102.31 last January to $139.09 this January, according to Southwest Gas estimates.
Businesses say the increase in gas prices just adds more pressure on their bottom line, which has already been stressed by new city taxes and surcharges.
“It’s just like with the BID tax, you can’t really pass on a lot of this to customers, you just gotta absorb it. It’s really hard,” said John Galea, who owns the Tahoe Keys Deli.
The BID is a business improvement district proposed by South Lake Tahoe city managers and would assess a fee on business licenses to go toward marketing expenses at the Lake Tahoe Visitor’s Authority. It would amount to around $600 a year in Galea’s case.
“Either you do it (raise prices again) and people understand, or you just absorb it, and it affects your bottom line,” Galea said.
Motel owners will also have to absorb the increased heating costs, and say it adds to other costs they’ve had to suck up, such as the transient occupancy tax.
At Motel 8, Summersgill said there is no plan to increase rates, but they are keeping an eye on their bills.
“We’re not planning on it, all you can do is keep an eye on occupancy, and be as efficient as you can be,” he said.
For his home, Summersgill took advantage of firewood permits available through the U.S. Forest Service that allow wood to be harvested from thinning projects. Permits could only be used through the end of October.
The wood he gathered has helped steady his home heating bill.
“Fortunately I’ve moved into a house that has a fireplace so we now utilize it as a necessity rather than just for looks,” he said.
Meanwhile, phones have been busy at Southwest Gas’ customer call center.
“The fact that it has been so cold and people have been receiving their first energy bills of the winter, the number of calls coming to our call center about their high bills has increased significantly,” said Roger Buehrer, spokesman for Southwest Gas, which services all areas in the Tahoe Basin except South Lake Tahoe. Avista Utilities serve the South Shore city, and did not return calls for comment.
The increase reflects rate hikes to cover operational costs, as well as increased gas prices, according to Buehrer. Southwest Gas is not allowed by law to reap a profit.
A decrease last week in crude oil prices might not be felt immediately because half the energy is purchased ahead of time based on fixed-price contracts, Buehrer explained.
“The price of gas is up all over the country and we are just as much at the hands of the marketplace as our customers,” said Buehrer. “The market has been extremely volatile for the last year and a half.”
The good news is that customers of Southwest Gas in California – Truckee and Tahoe City – will see a 12 to 13 percent decrease in bills come Jan. 1. That decrease comes as a result of a surcharge expiring which was enacted to make up for a two-year delay the California Public Utility Commission took to approve a rate increase.
Winter weatherization tips (Source: Southwest Gas)
Set the thermostat to 68 degrees when home, and then back to 58 degrees when sleeping or when you’re not home more than four hours.
In the winter, open window coverings on the sunny side of your home to take advantage of “free heat from the sun.” Close the coverings on cloudy days or right after the sun sets.
Caulk windows and caulk and weather-strip doors. Keep the outside air out and the inside air in.
Replace furnace filters. Spray inexpensive filters with a light coating of lemon furniture polish or vegetable oil cooking spray to help trap dirt in the filter.
Replace normal thermostats with programmable thermostats.
Install hot water pipe insulation.
Replace inefficient and single pane windows with energy efficient multi-pane, vinyl-framed windows.
Service your heating system once a year.