Two days before the start of summer, some local natural gas customers are facing bills they would expect to pay in the winter.
The bills came after Atmos Energy, which serves the New River Valley and beyond, changed its calculation method for people on its budget billing program. Budget billing plans, offered by many utility companies, are designed to help you have a set amount to pay each month over the year.
Until now, Atmos says its previous method never addressed underpayment or overpayment during seasonal highs and lows. When it changed its calculation method May 1 to settle up the accounts, some customers say they got a drastically higher bill. "There was no warning so of course I was surprised by the billing amount," said Atmos customer Geoffrey Knobl who uses both gas and electric in his home. "I expected something in the low to mid 40s and I got double that, so there's that surprise. And it comes at a time when other bills are fairly high."
While some customers have higher usage; therefore higher bills, the latest billing cycle may also reflect a longer billing cycle than usual as meter reading was delayed as Atmos made the transition to the new calculation method.
Atmos Energy's Director of Rates and Regulatory Affairs, Gary Smith says some customers were overpaying throughout the year and can now expect to get a credit on their bills for several months. Smith says customers who underpaid can expect their June bill to be more stable; however, bills may still fluctuate every month because Atmos recalculates each billing cycle and doesn't settle up once a year like you might be familiar with other utilities.
Smith went on to say Atmos Energy did not notify customers in advance of the abrupt change because the rates have not changed. A rate changed would have required the company to notify its customers in advance as required by the State Corporation Commission.