Kansas Customers Left To Pay The Price After Winter Storm Sends Natural Gas Prices Soaring

WICHITA, Kansas – Last February, the city of Cheney, Kansas, west of Wichita, paid about $ 2 per thousand cubic feet or unit of natural gas in the wholesale market.

But last week, during the height of the winter storm, it paid over $ 600 a unit.

“We didn’t get the chance to just say, ‘We don’t want gas for our community,” said Danielle Young, Cheney city administrator. “We just had to take the price we got to make sure our residents stayed warm. “

And since city dwellers use three times as much natural gas as normal, even environmental efforts haven’t done much to mitigate the damage.

Young said in 2020 the city spent around $ 256,000 on natural gas year-round to power its residents. But it’s not until this month that the city of around 2,000 residents will spend around $ 1 million.

She said unfortunately, these additional costs will soon be added to customers’ bills, which will hit mailboxes and inboxes on March 1st.

“Our customers may look at a higher bill if we don’t find out in the next week,” said Young, “because we know our upcoming bill will come in as soon as we send our own bill.”

It’s not just Cheney: most Kansans should expect their utility bills to go up in the next month after the record breaking winter storm.

Cold temperatures in most parts of the US last week spiked demand for natural gas, and utilities had to pay to get access. These increased utility fuel costs are eventually passed on to customers.

Kansas Governor Laura Kelly sent a letter to federal regulators over the weekend requesting an investigation into gas price spikes and asking for financial assistance.

“We will continue to liaise with the Biden administration for aid and continue to encourage Congress to pass a stimulus package with state and local funds to aid the Kansas communities,” Kelly said in a statement.

The Kansas Corporation Commission state regulators are also trying to reduce the impact on customers. They asked the larger utilities that the KCC regulates, such as Evergy and Kansas Gas Service, to keep an eye on the additional costs associated with the winter storm so they can find a way to spread the surge over a longer period of time.

“Our jurisdiction is limited, however,” said Andrew French, chairman of the KCC, in a press release. “We also need quick and decisive leadership at the federal level.”

Smaller public utilities are not regulated by the state and it will be more difficult to shield customers without outside help.

Utilities say regardless of an increase in fuel costs that may not be immediately apparent, customers are likely to use more electricity or natural gas than normal and have a higher bill this month.

“What customers will see over the next month is more normal seasonal fluctuations in their bill. The prices and the prices on which your bill is based have not changed, ”said Evergy spokeswoman Gina Penzig.

There are a few options for people who may not be able to afford the bill when it arrives. Customers should try reaching out to their utility company to see if they can sign up for an average billing plan. It calculates and averages the total amount customers pay for utilities over a year so that they pay the same amount every month.

Several local Kansas charities also offer assistance with paying utility bills. For information on local programs, call 211.

The state also administers the federal low-income energy aid program. The program delivers money to pay bills based on income. Applications for the 2021 program are possible until March 31st.

No further state or state aid related to the effects of the winter storm has been announced at this time.

In the meantime, people like Young and other municipal utilities are calling every politician or regulator they can think of to try to find a solution before it’s time to send out bills.

“We understand that if we send out these bills it is likely that they will not be able to pay these bills …” she said, and fell silent. “It’s really unfortunate, and we understand that, and we’re just doing everything we can to bring it down for them.”

Brian Grimmett reports on the environment, energy and natural resources for SMBs in Wichita and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @briangrimmett or email him at grimmett (at) kmuw (dot) org. The Kansas News Service is a collaboration between KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW, and High Plains Public Radio that focuses on health, the social determinants of health, and their relationship to public order.

Kansas News Service stories and photos can be republished by the news media for free with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.

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