Despite exorbitant bills received by many customers recently, Spire claims it actually decreased rates since it acquired Mobile Gas last year.

Photo | Lagniappe

Despite complaints from a number of customers, officials with Spire have said the natural gas utility has made efforts to lower costs. But since acquiring Mobile Gas last fall, Spire Inc. has had a hard time endearing itself to customers, based on a number of complaints about its rates.

Mike Guilday, whose home is equipped with a natural gas water heater, said his bills have been erratic since Spire took over.

“My natural gas bills have been astronomical,” he said. “My bills were $40 in November, but jumped up to $90, $175 and $75 in the months since. There’s no way my bill could be that high.”

Guilday said he can’t fathom that his bill would jump to $175 for use of a water heater only.

“I’ll call and say ‘I think my reading’s wrong’ and it’s the same thing every time, they’ll say ‘it’s not wrong,’” he said.

Under Mobile Gas, Guilday said his bill wasn’t subject to “big swings” like it has been recently.

“I’d understand if it was a couple bucks, but there’s no way it could be that expensive,” he said.

In response to the complaints, Spire spokeswoman Jenny Gobble acknowledged bills have been higher than normal this winter.

“That’s because it was a much colder winter,” she wrote in an email message. “What many customers are seeing is an increase in usage that is leading to the higher bills. While we have had a couple of mild winters, customers are seeing bills similar to January 2014, when it was bitterly cold for an extended period.”

As for a situation like Guilday described, Gobble said if it’s colder outside, a water heater or furnace runs longer to produce the same amount of heat.

”We’d be happy to walk them through how their bill is calculated and how their usage is similar to winter 2014. We want to help if these high bills are a hardship. The best thing our customers can do is give us a call at 800-292-4008.”

Oakleigh Garden District resident Melissa Kyle wrote in an email message that her bill quadrupled after her home was recently insulated.

Zanathious Horn complained the high bills have forced him into a payment plan, but Spire is still threatening to disconnect his service.

Guilday also complained about Spire customer service. He said it’s hard to reach a customer service representative, and technicians give only a short window of time to have someone home to read a meter.

Several residents provided Lagniappe with a document Spire apparently filed with the state Public Service Commission showing an increase in rates. The document, according to Spire spokeswoman Michelle R. Niewald, shows rates from the company’s central Alabama service area of Montgomery and Birmingham. Rates for the Mobile region have dropped, she wrote in an email message. The rates have dropped more than 20 cents per therm, which is a unit of measurement for heat, she wrote.

“The rates in the Mobile area dropped nearly 21 cents per therm with our Dec. 1 filing,” she wrote. “Most residential customers use 354 therms per year (in a year with average temperatures) so this lower rate would help customers save around $70 a year. We also lowered rates another 7 cents per therm on Feb. 1 to pass along our savings from the tax reform legislation, which adds up to another $25 per year in savings.”

Like Gobble, Niewald said the higher bills were a result of a “historically cold” winter.

“Despite lower rates this year, this winter was historically cold — so customers were using much more energy to heat their homes and water than normal,” she wrote.