Skyrocketed increase in natural gas prices brings concern about customers’ bills

Published: Feb. 18, 2021 at 7:14 PM CST
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - Natural gas bills 10, 20, or even 25 times higher than normal: That’s what some companies and cities say they’re facing. The question becomes what this means for individual customers who have spent the past two-plus weeks needing extra energy to stay warm in one of the coldest stretches Kansas has seen in decades.

It’s not a stretch to say that gas providers are paying an astronomical amount for natural gas. A unit that sold for about $3 less than two weeks ago is selling for more than $400 today. Those figures come from the city of Winfield. Winfield City Manager Taggart Wall said the city budgets a little more than $1.5 million for natural gas per year. Right now, they’re looking at a bill for roughly six days coming in at a little more than $10 million.

Wall said the price of the natural gas Winfield buys from Kansas Municipal Gas Agency has skyrocketed.

“An average customer’s bill is going to be somewhere in the $2,500 range, you know, just for their house,” Wall said.

Because the price increase happened so recently, residential customers haven’t yet received bills reflecting those prices, but the fear is that they’re coming.

“It definitely is not something we see every day. It’s pretty unprecedented right now and natural gas prices are unregulated, so there’s really not a lot of control that we have,” said Linda Berry with the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC).

The KCC regulates rates for utilities in the state. It’s asked gas providers like Black Hills Energy, the Kansas Gas Service and other to hold off issuing those bills to customers until a plan to ease their impact can be reached. What that plan will look like isn’t yet known.

“At this point, there’s ‘we can’t give you exact numbers,’” Berry said. “I know that produces a lot of anxiety with people when it’s unknown, but just know that the KCC and the utilities will be working together to come up with a plan.”

But that plan will be of no help to cities like Winfield because it doesn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the KCC.

“It truly is about our community. We have to survive. That’s life or death for businesses,” Wall said.

Eyewitness News did reach out to Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt to see if his office has received complaints concerning the skyrocketing prices for natural gas.

Schmidt’s office issued a statement saying, “The Attorney General is concerned about these shocking price spikes. Regulation of natural gas is complex, with some authority exclusively federal and some jurisdiction left to the states. We are assessing whether the law provides a role for our office in this manner.”

Black Hills Energy did not return our requests for comment and Kansas Gas Service said it’s working with the KCC to address the situation.

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