The NBC 5 Responds team has received more than a dozen complaints from consumers who say their Atmos Energy bills have skyrocketed, including Nancy Coleman, who has lived in her South Dallas home for 44 years.
But in all the years she's been there, she said she doesn't recall any of her energy bills getting close to where they are now.
Her January bill was $41, but her February bill soared to $539.
"I couldn't believe it," she said.
Coleman said she called Atmos and was given a case number.
She said a representative told her they'd investigate the situation and call her back, but that didn't happen.
She began looking around her house to assess the problem on her own.
Coleman told us she barely cooks, rarely cranks up the heat and doesn't take hot showers.
"There's got to be problem," she said.
After placing more calls, Coleman said Atmos sent out a technician to check her house and her meter.
She said they didn't detect a leak or any other problem and based on the meter reading, she was told her bill was accurate, so she'd have to pay.
"There's no way that this could be just from usage. There's something wrong," said Coleman.
North Texans Frustrated
Coleman's concerns are far from isolated. Ashley Hine's bill went from $84 in January to $222 in February. The Fort Worth woman said the bill caught her completely off guard.
"We were gone out of town for a week in January. So, how is it gonna go up you know $140 [or] $150 dollars?" she asked.
Atmos Energy Responds
Atmos points to the record setting temperatures across the Dallas/Fort Worth area earlier this year.
Atmos says, "January's average was 46 degrees with several days in that month where the temperature lows were well below freezing. February's average was 50 degrees with a few days at or below freezing..."
"In winter 2017 February's average was 61 with zero days close to freezing. January 2017 average temperature was 52 with only two days at or below freezing. So consumption last year vs. this year would be vastly different as the colder the temperature is outside the harder the heating appliance must work to maintain the warmer temperature inside the home."
Atmos also says that more than likely, customers who saw a larger bill in February were estimated too low in January, and that usage then caught up in February.
"That can't triple my bill. It just can't happen," said Hine.
She said she isn't buying Atmos' answer, and neither are some of her neighbors.
Many posted on a community Facebook page questioning Atmos' billing estimates.
"You're not going to try to screw me," said Hine.
Atmos' Billing System
We reached out to Atmos Energy again to learn more about it's billing system.
Atmos says "in Texas, per the rules of service, estimated bills may be submitted provided that an actual meter reading is taken at least every six months. Atmos Energy's practice is not to estimate more than two consecutive months. This is not a seasonal practice, but one we utilize year round."
Atmos tells us that estimated readings can be higher or lower than actual usage. However, bills self-correct when the meter is read, ensuring a customer never pays for more energy than actually used. If the bill is estimated higher than actual usage, Atmos says it will apply the difference to the next bill as a credit. However, Atmos says it will issue a refund if requested by a customer.
But Coleman is convinced there's something wrong.
Her March bill is $309, more than twice the amount she paid this time last year.
She plans on calling Atmos again to ensure their estimate is correct.
The NBC 5 Responds team has heard from two local organizations that assist with energy billing. They tell us they've seen an uptick in calls regarding high energy bills. Those groups believe weather could be to blame.
Atmos Energy tells us that by law, they never mark up the cost of natural gas.
"Our customers pay what we pay. We secure the most competitive prices for natural gas when we purchase gas supplies for storage to be used during cold spells."
If you've received a high energy bill, here are Samantha Chatman's Solutions:
-If a customer has a question about the accuracy of their bill, you can contact Atmos Energy at 888-286-6700 and request that the meter be read to confirm your actual consumption. For even faster results, you may take a picture of the meter and submit it to Atmos' website through its Account Center.
-Atmos Energy customers can contact Atmos Energy at 888-286-6700 to make payment arrangements, such as an installment plan.
-Eligible customers in financial need may receive assistance through Atmos' Share the Warmth program. To see if you qualify for assistance, call 211.
-The Dallas County Health & Human Services' Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) program assists low-income residents who are experiencing financial hardship. Residents may contact their office at 214 819-1848 or visit the DCHHS website here to learn if they are eligible for relief.