CenterPoint responds to recent increase in gas bills

Published: Feb. 28, 2022 at 5:42 PM CST|Updated: Mar. 1, 2022 at 3:46 PM CST
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - With all the frustration in the area, CenterPoint took a chance to explain their side of why bills are so high.

Utility providers like CenterPoint buy natural gas on the wholesale market, then pass the cost of it on to customers.

“Whatever that gas cost is to us is exactly what it is to the customer and there’s no markup on the commodity,” said CenterPoint Energy representative Natalie Hedde.

Which poses the question: what caused the natural gas prices to rise?

“You know, it’s just a function of the market, of supply and demand, and so as you saw demand get higher and then maybe some certain things in the market that tightened supply caused a spike in the prices,” said CenterPoint Energy representative Richard Leger.

Hedde says last February’s nationwide winter storm Uri required CenterPoint to purchase high-priced natural gas to meet the energy demands.

They got permission from the state to pass on these costs to consumers starting in August and they say those charges will end in July.

The Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission ranks the most expensive natural gas providers in the state and CenterPoint Energy Indiana South was one of the most expensive, and was the most expensive for low usage customers.

They say this boils down to base fees, which cover the cost of getting gas to customers, something that hadn’t been updated for a long time.

“That goes back to the fact that we were the lowest natural gas prices in the state for a considerable amount of time because it had been since 2007 since we had brought those base rates current,” said Hedde. “So for much longer we were the lowest in the state for the very short period of time that we’ve been the highest.”

One place to see the effect of the higher bills is on Facebook. The group “Direct Action Against CenterPoint Energy” is a place for people to share their experiences and frustrations with the company.

CenterPoint says they’ve been willing to communicate with administrators from the group, but they haven’t been shown the same courtesy.

“We’ve reached out multiple times to the individual who created that Facebook page and I’m just not sure she has the intent to have dialogue with us in an intentional manner,” said Hedde.

Heather Lobeck, one of the group’s administrators, disagrees. She says their interactions with the company end up as referrals to assistance programs, but group members are looking for something different.

“What we are asking for is meaningful change, meaningful change in our bills, decreases. We don’t need phone numbers to assistance programs,” said Lobeck.

We asked Hedde if bills will be this high again next winter. She said it’s impossible to know until at least this fall.

Another element that magnified the problem between CenterPoint and its customers was the recent release of CenterPoint’s earnings report, which showed a successful quarter and year for the company. They say they recognize it may have seemed tone deaf to celebrate the earnings report, but they’re required to release it.

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