Energy shortage has huge bill hikes expected

If you can turn down your thermostat safely, do so now.

That’s the message of cities across the region and the governor’s office as they sound the alarm on the natural gas shortage caused by the nationwide arctic blast.

“Our natural gas management agency is telling us to expect an increase that would cause your bill for this time of the year to increase by 10 to 20 times normal,” Hesston City Administrator Gary Emry said. “As I am certain you will see a significant increase in your billing for this period, please take measures to conserve your natural gas usage immediately.”
Hesston’s a part of the Kansas Municipal Energy Agency, a pool that purchases gas for other cities, such as Halstead, Burrton and Moundridge.

“Tuesday, natural gas was around $3.00 per unit […] Friday, it was $329 per unit,” the City of Moundridge stated in a release imploring its residents to conserve gas and electricity.

The Moundridge release said that the KMEA pool paid $30 million for gas to supply its members through the weekend. Those costs would be passed on to cities based on gas usage.

For context, Moundridge stated that it expects a gas bill for the month that will exceed half of its yearly budget for gas service.

Newton is served by the Kansas Gas Service. The company reported it is expecting record amounts of gas usage through the snap and dealing with the increased prices. As for how those increased gas prices would effect consumers, the company did not provide specific estimates when asked.

“We are seeing much higher natural gas use and a significant surge in natural gas market prices,” Dawn Tripp, spokeswoman for the company, stated via email. “While we do not mark up the price of natural gas, these events will have an impact on customer bills. At this time, we cannot quantify what the impact will be.”

As part of these gas shortages, Gov. Laura Kelly declared a state of emergency, which authorizes the use of state resources and personnel to assist with response and recovery efforts.

“As the extreme cold temperatures continue to affect the region, we are urging Kansans to conserve energy in order to help ensure a continued supply of natural gas and electricity and keep their own personal costs down,” she said.

In a state of emergency or disaster declaration,  profiteering, or “price gouging,” becomes illegal under Kansas statute 50-6,106.

The measure defines price gouging as a supplier charging a 25 or more percent increase on costs, compared to similarly available services in the “trade area” or a 25 or more percent increase on costs compared to the costs the previous business day.

However, if supplier costs increased by that amount over the time period, the increases would be justified and not qualify as price gouging under the statute.

It’s not just Kansas feeling the crunch. Millions of Texans have been left without power as electricity providers in that state have instituted rolling black outs in an attempt to conserve power and keep their grid from failing.

On the ground in central Kansas, residents are now left balancing their budgets, comfort and the safety of their water pipes.

Frozen water pipes have widely been reported throughout the area, with temperatures getting well below zero at night, wind chills approaching -30 degrees and no relief expected until at least Friday.

For those looking to save energy, suggestions provided include lowering the thermostat, putting on extra clothes and bundling up inside, turning off extra lights or other users of power, turning down the water heater, sealing leaks around the windows, holding off on doing chores requiring hot water, changing or cleaning air filters and taking shorter showers.


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