CenterPoint Answers Customer's Complaints, City's Allegations

Bill after bill, the question most customers are asking is, how did I use so much gas during such a mild winter?

Some doubt that CenterPoint is sending someone out to read their meters every month. So, we asked District Manager, Fred Carl.

"We read the meters all the time, except for people that are on postcard, or we can't get to that meter for some reason that particular month," he said.

Postcard customers read their own meters and send in a reading for the month.

Carl says all the customers who have complained to KLTV 7 this week have actually used as much gas as their bills said.

But those customers are still confused about the gas cost adjustment, or GCA, that's increasing their base total by 40 percent or more.

"I've received no details at all," Jan Franklin, a CenterPoint customer, said. "They just state cost adjustment. I have no idea what their costs are."

Carl says the higher GCA can be explained by the spike in wholesale natural gas prices nationwide, based on the NYMEX, or the New York Mercantile Exchange.

"It literally is a market-based, data-based," Carl said. "We don't pick the numbers. It's not just something we come up with. Nobody was complaining in '99 when there was a negative GCA. There's nothing different, except the overall market nationally has changed drastically in the last few years."

Senator Kevin Eltife and Mayor Joey Seeber don't buy that, which is why the city of Tyler has filed a lawsuit against CenterPoint. I told Carl what the mayor told us.

"He says, 'Our investigation shows that for 10 years, CenterPoint deliberately mislead and deceived the city of Tyler in a price manipulation scheme that cost our residents 25 million dollars. I don't know what they are doing today, but when they did it for a 10-year period, it makes me suspicious of what they are doing today.' What would your response be to that?" I asked.

"I totally disagree with everything he said," Carl said. "And that's not just a new deal. We've had these discussions with the mayor, both of them, for years. And literally, when you sit there and say, here's our data. It's been on file with the Railroad Commission. The Railroad Commission doesn't have a problem with it. Why do you?"

"Are you charging the right gas prices?" I asked.

"They contend that the contracts where we bought the gas is devious and wrong," Carl said, referring to Seeber and Eltife. "It's not. It's a legitimate, true contract that were based on buying the supplies that we needed."

According to the NYMEX, natural gas prices are beginning to drop and will remain low through next winter. That should mean a lower bill for you.

Julie Tam, reporting.