Gas bill increase may depend on utility vs city service

The unprecedented spike in natural gas prices amid the nationwide cold snap could impact your energy bill.

While it still remains unclear exactly when and how badly customers will feel the pain in their wallets, advocates are concerned about the impact amid the pandemic.

"For a low-income family, it really would hurt," said Bill Grant, the executive director of Minnesota Community Action Partnership.

MinnCAP is a nonprofit that works with the state to help people pay their energy bills. For energy bill help, click here.

"We’re talking about people who were already paying 10% or more of their monthly income towards their utility cost," said Grant.

He says he’s concerned those families will be hit hard when the cost of last week’s natural gas price spike hits their gas bill.

"It forces some very difficult choices for people," said Grant.

Because of the pandemic even if Minnesotans can’t pay their bills, their utilities won’t be cut off. Grant worries, however, once that moratorium is lifted and these extra costs are added to gas bills, his nonprofit will be overwhelmed with people looking for help. Grant is hoping more federal and state assistance will come their way.

"We don’t know exactly how much money is coming to Minnesota, we don’t know exactly how many people are going to apply for assistance," said Grant.

As for when these costs show up on your bill – it could depend on whether your natural gas is provided by a company, like Xcel or CenterPoint – or a city utility.

"This is an outrageous problem," said Pat Garrity, a commissioner for Hibbing Public Utilities.

Hibbing Public Utilities is facing $1.2 million in unexpected costs and is hoping they get some state or federal help before being forced to pass that cost along to their customers.

"This is like a perfect storm of people can’t afford to pay their bill because of COVID and so many layoffs and the mines were shut down and now to get hit with a bill like this," said Garrity.

In addition to seeking help from nonprofits like MinnCAP, experts encourage people to call their utility companies to learn more about payment and forgiveness plans.