Customers now feeling ‘bill shock’

Published 6:00 am Wednesday, January 17, 2001

Many Lincoln residents felt the bitter effects of a cold winterand a nationwide crisis when they received unusually-high naturalgas bill this week.

Reliant Energy Entex customers who have not received thismonth’s bill can expect the same shock — increases of 50-to-100percent over last month’s bills.

“This time last year the price was about $2.29 per 1,000 (cubic)feet, and now it’s up to $10.41,” said Charles Campbell, manager ofReliant Energy Entex in Brookhaven.

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The increase comes from a reduction in the natural gasproduction and a larger demand for the commodity, causing producersto raise the prices. The nationwide hike during the depths ofwinter is being investigated by the Federal Emergency RegulatoryCommission.

Even though Entex and other natural gas suppliers have theirhands tied and are only passing down the same costs they have beenstuck with by producers, they are trying to help customers,Campbell said.

“Most of our customers have been pretty understanding so far,and we are trying to accommodate them the best we can,” saidCampbell.

Campbell mentioned a senior citizen who lives alone, yetacquired a $600 bill this month. After receiving the bill, thecustomer immediately called Entex and explained that she would beunable to pay the full amount now.

Many other customers have contacted Entex about their inabilityto afford the high bills, and officials have gladly worked withthem.

“We’re not going to cut anybody off who is trying to pay it,”said Campbell, mentioning that some customers have made plans topay installments every week rather than the lump sum.

The caring attitude Entex has adopted for its customers is beingnoted by state officials.

“Out of our 121,000 customers, we only had two complain to thepublic service commissioner about their high bill,” said Campbell,attributing the lack of complaints to customers understanding thedilemma.

“One lady came in about her bill, and said, ‘I know my bill ishigh, and I understand there’s not a thing ya’ll can do about it,'”said Campbell, who was glad for such kind customers.

While the increase in wellhead prices is the main cause forhigher bills, customers must also realize that some of the coldestdays of the year are included in this month’s bill.

“This extremely unusual winter we’ve had this year has added toit,” said Campbell.

The average temperatures are much colder than last year’saverages during this time of the year, resulting in more usage ofnatural gas for heating.

As for what the future holds for natural gas prices, Entexofficials and others around the nation do not know.

“I can’t speculate what’s going to happen to the prices nextweek or the week after that. I just don’t know,” said Campbell.