Gas bills in Korea so high some skipping meals to pay them

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Gas bills in Korea so high some skipping meals to pay them

A gas meter in a residential area in Seoul on Jan. 24 [YONHAP]

A gas meter in a residential area in Seoul on Jan. 24 [YONHAP]

 
Gas price increases are hitting Koreans hard as they get their first household gas bills of the season.
 
A 32-year-old Yongsan District resident was stunned to find his December bill was almost 228,870 won ($185.5) for his home, where he lives alone. The amount he used compared to the same period a year ago was similar, but the gas bill went up by more than 37 percent.
 
“The economy is already in bad shape, and it really made me lose energy after seeing the gas bills,” he said.
 
He wasn’t the only one.
 
Another 32-year-old office worker who lives alone in a studio in Yangcheon District, western Seoul, also got an unpleasant shock after receiving his recent gas bills.
 
The figure written on the gas bill was higher than maintenance costs, electricity and water bills combined.
 
He was charged 133,400 won for his studio gas bill in December. The gas usage increased 1.5 times, but the costs nearly doubled.
 
"If I pay proportionally to the amount I used, I wouldn’t feel unfair,” the resident said. “The burden on living costs is big, but I’m going to save money on food instead because I feel like I’ll freeze to death unless I heat my place.”
 
The heating bill of a 31-year-old office employee, who lives in an apartment with his parents in Goyang, Gyeonggi, hit 75,852 won in December 2021 to 138,091 won this December. The gas use rose by around 31 percent, while the bills soared by 82 percent.
 
Similar complaints are also arising online.
 
In an online community for people living in Magok-dong in Gangseo District, western Seoul, residents are sharing their December bills and complaining of the bill shock.
 
“My heating bills nearly quadrupled from the previous month to 123,620 won,” one user wrote. “I've always had the indoor temperature set at 22 or 23 degrees Celsius [71.6 to 73.4 Fahrenheit], but the heating bills were like a bomb.”
 
In a blog post, one user said that the recent bills were 100,000 won higher compared to a year ago despite using less heat.
 
The reason behind the abnormally high heating bills are the rising energy prices worldwide caused in part by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
 
According to the Korea City Gas Association on Wednesday, the retail price of gas in Seoul this month stood at 19.69 won per megajoule, up 38.4 percent from 14.22 won of the same period a year ago. This was largely due to the global energy crisis caused by the war in Ukraine, which pushed up the cost of Korea's liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports to a record high of $56.7 billion — far exceeding the previous record high of $36.6 billion.
 
Home heating costs for an individual heating system — not a district heating system — also jumped 37.8 percent in just a year.  
 
According to the Korea District Heating Corporation (KDHC), the heat usage cost per one mega calorie stood at 65.23 won by the end of March 2022, but that ballooned to 66.98 won in April, 74.49 won in July, and 89.88 won in October.
 
Many Koreans were caught off guard by heating bills as Siberian cold wave sweeping the country means a further bill shock in winter is likely.
 
The government explains that state-owned Korea Gas Corporation (Kogas) is experiencing financial difficulty in the aftermath of the import price hike, and the cost increase was unpreventable. Kogas accounts receivable, which stood at 1.8 trillion won in 2021, are estimated to have jumped to 8.8 trillion won in 2022.  
 
Korea has maintained gas rates for the first quarter of 2023. But they are likely to be raised from the second quarter.  
 
While announcing the change of electricity and gas rates, Energy Minister Lee Chang-yang said the adjustment of the rates are “inevitable” to solve fundamental problems, such ending Korea Electric Power Corp.'s losses and guaranteeing a continuity of energy supply.

BY HWANG YEA-LIN,SHIM SEOK-YONG,SEO JI-EUN [seo.jieun1@joongang.co.kr]
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