Historic cold in south set to add 'up to $400' to Minnesotans' gas bills

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has launched an investigation into the gas spike.

Minnesotans are facing a substantial increase in their energy bills as a result of the weather crisis that hammered supplies in the south.

Historic cold hit the central United States earlier this month, with Texas particularly hard hit as plunging temperatures caused energy facilities to freeze, hitting supplies of – among other things – natural gas.

At the same time, the deep freeze – which also saw temperatures plunge to 20-30 below in Minnesota – sparked a spike in demand for gas for both electricity and heating across a vast swath of the country, driving up the price of wholesale gas.

While Minnesota's energy grid is capable of handling such conditions, that wasn't the same in other states, with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) announcing Tuesday that some state utilities were having to pay for gas at prices "at least 50 times higher than average" between Feb. 12 and Feb. 17.

At a hearing Tuesday, the state's major gas utilities said that some of this extra cost will be passed on to customers, although it's not likely to show up in bills for several months, and may be spread out across multiple bills to soften the impact on ratepayers.

Per the Star Tribune, CenterPoint Energy said the extra charges could range from $300 to $400 on average, with Xcel Energy predicting about a $250 to $300 hike, MERC $225 to $250, and Great Plains Gas around $200 to $300.

The newspaper notes that Faribault-based Greater Minnesota Gas customers will not experience higher bills because it didn't make "spot gas purchases."

Meanwhile, Minnesota U.S. Sen. Tina Smith suggested those in the Midwest who get their energy from smaller utilities could see their bills rise by up to $1,000, though didn't provide any specific examples.

The PUC and the Department of Commerce voted Tuesday to launch a formal investigation into the impact of the national spike in gas prices on Minnesota customers.

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PUC Chair Katie Sieben said in a statement: "Our infrastructure provided warmth and electricity to Minnesotans throughout the severe weather event. We are just learning the economic fallout from this storm.

"As regulators, we will use every tool available to mitigate the impact to Minnesota utility customers. And, we will work cooperatively with state and federal partners to address the very real consequences this storm may have on utility customers’ pocketbooks. In the midst of this COVID pandemic, the last thing needed are additional bills hitting Minnesota families and businesses."

In a statement Tuesday evening, Gov. Tim Walz said he welcomes the PUC opening an investigation, and promising that his administration "will advocate for Minnesota ratepayers during that process."

He added that Minnesota not seeing the power and gas cuts experienced in Texas – where the energy grid is unregulated – is a "testament to the benefits of Minnesota’s effective energy planning and regulation and the skilled work of our frontline utility workers."

Sen. Smith meanwhile welcomed a federal investigation into nationwide gas price spikes.

“I’m glad that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has launched an investigation into this issue, and I urge them to utilize every tool available to them," she said. "Now is not the time for a timid approach to enforcement, or for a slap on the wrist, if it is determined that gas producers violated the law and ripped off families across the Midwest at a time of national emergency.”

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