When Zachary Lee opened his most recent natural gas bill, he got a surprise, and not a good one.
"Our gas bill was up almost 50% over last year, with almost the same usage," Lee said.
He's not alone.
Check out Facebook or Twitter, and you'll find dozens of people complaining about the size of their gas bills. Many of the posts are not fit to print.
Among the ones that are:
"My gas bill made me spit my coffee out this morning."
"Crazy gas bill this month!"
"I am freaking out."
"My jaw dropped."
The high gas bills are largely due to the price of natural gas, which is much higher now than it has been historically.
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The price Black Hills Energy charged for natural gas this month and last month is more than 50% higher than a year ago.
In December, customers not on the fixed-price option paid nearly 95 cents per 100 cubic feet of natural gas, up from less than 61 cents in December 2021.
The January rate went up 14% compared with December, to nearly $1.08 per 100 cubic feet. In January 2022, it was a little more than 68 cents.
"Natural gas prices have increased substantially over the past year-plus – doubling and even tripling from the historically low prices that we’ve become accustomed to over the past 8-10 years," Black Hills spokeswoman Brandy Johnson said in an email.
The nearly 14,000 people who signed up for the company's annual fixed-price option are paying slightly less, with an effective rate of about 86 cents per 100 cubic feet, but even that is twice what it was two years ago and the highest price for the program since 2009.
Gas prices weren't the only reason the December bill was higher for most people.
"December 2022 was colder than we’ve seen in recent months and compared to December 2021," Johnson said. "When temperatures outside are colder, we use more energy to keep our homes warmer — even if the thermostat is set to the same temperature."
According to weather data from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the average temperature in Lincoln in December was 25.8 degrees. In December 2021, the average was 36 degrees.
There also are other factors, including a billing period that was slightly longer than last year and a continuing monthly charge to compensate Black Hills for the extremely cold conditions in February 2021, which led to rolling blackouts in Lincoln and caused natural gas prices to spike to more than 100 times their normal levels.
But that's cold comfort to consumers who in some cases are seeing the highest gas bills they've ever gotten.
"We know that higher costs for everything — from groceries to gasoline to monthly energy bills — are a topic of conversation in the communities we serve," Johnson said. "We recognize the impact that bill increases have on our customers and we’re here to help."
She highlighted programs Black Hills has available, such as budget billing, which gives customers a consistent monthly payment based on their average usage over the past year, and energy assistance for those who qualify.
Johnson also highlighted energy-saving tips, such as lowering the furnace a degree or two, that can be found on its website, blackhillsenergy.com.
Reach the writer at 402-473-2647 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @LincolnBizBuzz.