Class Accuses SoCalGas of Overbilling

     SANTA BARBARA (CN) – A class action accuses Sempra Energy and its SoCalGas subsidiary of unfairly extending billing cycles and using the extra days to charge customers “over baseline” rates for natural gas.
     Garry Tetalman accuses Sempra of unfair competition and consumer law violations in his Feb. 29 complaint in Superior Court. He claims that by extending some monthly billing periods to as long as 35 days, Sempra and SoCalGas charge higher, over-baseline rates that would not apply had the billing cycle ended after 31 days or less.
     The complaint stems from a bill he received on Jan. 26, for a 35-day billing cycle. He says he was charged 83 cents per therm for the first 59 therms of natural gas, and $1.09 for the 78 therms he used over his baseline of 59. Had he been billed for just 31 days, he says, the next four days would have been billed at the lower rate.
     A therm is 100,000 British thermal units, or BTUs. It is the approximate equivalent of burning 100 cubic feet of natural gas.
     Tetalman says in the complaint that SoCalGas acknowledges that its longer billing cycle can increase a bill by as much as 30 percent, particularly during the winter, when customers use up to seven times more natural gas than during the summer.
     SoCalGas said on its website that the long billing cycle in December – the bill that prompted Tetalman to sue – stemmed from the year-end holidays.
     “At the end of each year, meters are read on Saturdays to accommodate the holiday schedule. A Saturday read occurred in the month of December, 2015, thereby increasing the number of billing days by up to five. These additional days could result in higher bills depending on your usage, and will show in January billing,” SoCalGas said on its website.
     However, SoCalGas does not use door-to-door employees to read gas meters for customers who have “advanced meters,” which transmit gas meter data directly to its service and billing center. The company website says the advanced meters “enabl(e) us to provide you with more frequent and detailed gas information.”
     Tetalman has an advanced meter at his home, his attorney Robert Curtis told Courthouse News, so SoCalGas should be able to calculate 30- or 31-day monthly bills.
     “I think it’s unfair to consumers to force them into a longer bill cycle than 31 days given the tiered pricing structure of the gas,” Curtis said. “And I think, given the proliferation of smart meter and smart meter technology, they should be able to break up the year.”
     Curtis said the long cycles are common during winter months. The complaint includes a chart of 21 billing cycles the company uses; in 19 of them, December had at least 33 days. October, November and January also had cycles longer than 31 days, but during the summer the cycles are shorter. There was just one cycle longer than 31 days in July, none longer than 32 in August and none in September longer than 30.
     Curtis said millions of Sempra customers could be affected. The company has 21.4 million customers and 5.9 million meters, and Curtis says he believes the long billing cycles affected most customers.
     “I have looked at a host of bills and I think it’s happened to a large percentage of that 5.9 million,” Curtis said. “Almost every bill I see has the problem. A few don’t have, maybe the person had an electric stove or heater, but my client’s case was not abnormal. Almost everybody got hit by it.”
     SoCalGas did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
     Tetalman seeks class certification, disgorgement, restitution, an injunction and costs.
     Curtis is with Foley, Bezek, Behle & Curtis, in Santa Barbara.

%d bloggers like this: