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‘I am angry’: Southwest Gas customers protest rising bills

Updated February 21, 2023 - 5:49 pm

Southwest Gas rate payers gathered at the Public Utilities Commission’s office to protest potential rate hikes that would give the utility company $21.4 million in annual revenue.

Customers were gathered as part of a PUC consumer session held Tuesday evening at its Las Vegas office on West Diablo Road. The room was packed with rate payers who were upset about recent hikes to their gas bill, saying that inflation and higher utility costs should prevent the PUC from approving the annual rate plan filed by Southwest Gas.

“I am angry with Southwest Gas,” said rate payer Tracy Byrd. “Southwest Gas is a bully that needs to be brought to reality, and the reality is that consumers are fed up with this monopoly intimidating our community.”

If approved, the average single-family home in Southern Nevada will see its monthly bill increase by $2.77, while the average multifamily home will see its monthly bill increase by 87 cents. The increases are expected to take effect July 1.

The proposed rate increases are part of Southwest Gas’ annual rate adjustments and will make small changes to a variety of rates collected by the company, according to company spokeswoman Amy Washburn.

“Southwest Gas’ gas cost rates are updated quarterly to account for changes in the cost of gas the Company purchased on behalf of its customers, with no profit to the Company,” Washburn said in an emailed statement. “The customer pays what we pay. Recorded costs of natural gas are reviewed by the PUCN for reasonableness and prudence.”

This rate hike would be in addition to any planned increase that would take place April 1. The utility is expected to file its quarterly rate adjustment with the PUC by the end of the month. And it follows on the heels of already high gas bills after several quarterly rate increases, with the most recent taking effect Jan. 1.

Other rate payers at the session expressed frustration with the current gas rates.

“These increased gas bills mean less money for needed necessities such as food, insurance, children’s school needs, medication subscriptions, household savings for the vital families and more,” said Marlon Anderson. “We urge the Public Utilities Commission to push back on Southwest Gas unnecessary spending on gas systems. We ask that you increase energy efficiency programs and reduce overall methane gas demand.”

G. LaVerne Gentry said even lowering the thermostat doesn’t help.

“When you go from $25 a month up to as high as $196, then you keep your thermostat at 69 and you get these high prices,” Gentry said. “I don’t think it’s fair for anyone to have to go through that.”

A number of organizations also spoke out against rate increases in a press conference held by the Nevada Conservation League before the consumer session started.

Caring, Helping and Restoring Inc., Faith Organizing Alliance and the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada urged the PUC to reject the rate increase and focus on funding clean energy technology and energy efficiency programs.

“I have heard many stories of hardship, shock and outrage, as Southwest Gas customers receive utility bills that have doubled or even tripled. They’re just unacceptable,” Mary House, CEO of CHR Inc., said at the press conference. “The only way forward to stop this from being an ongoing problem for Nevada families is to reduce our dependency on (natural gas).”

In the coming months, the PUC will gather more comments and testimony on the proposed rate increases. It will hold a hearing on May 17 before it votes on Southwest Gas’ filing.

Washburn noted that the PUC could set rate increases at a higher or lower level than those proposed by Southwest Gas.

Contact Sean Hemmersmeier at shemmersmeier@reviewjournal.com. Follow @seanhemmers34 on Twitter.

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