State commission opens investigation into natural gas prices, impact to customers still unknown
(FOX 9) - State and energy industry leaders say it will still be a few months before Minnesotans see the impact of last week’s natural gas spike show up on their gas bills. In the meantime, they say they’ll be working to find ways to mitigate the costs.
Companies like Xcel and CenterPoint presented to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, estimating the average state household will likely be charged a few hundred dollars to make up for the price spike.
"The good news is we have time to find solutions to mitigate the impact potentially through our regulated system. We have time to look for other solutions and ways to mitigate the price spikes on businesses and home owners," said Katie Sieben, Chair of the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
Because of how gas pricing and purchasing works, Minnesotans likely won't see an impact on their bill until this fall, giving state and federal leaders time to figure out how to lessen that impact. It's also not yet clear if the cost to customers will come in the form of a one-time payment or stretched out over several months.
Meanwhile, Minnesota Sentator Tina Smith is calling on the U.S. Department of Energy to open an investigation into whether price spikes were the result of price gouging and find solutions to make sure it doesn't happen again.
"We will do everything we can to mitigate this and even out the burden so it doesn’t hit people in one fell swoop in a way that they simply can’t afford," Sen. Smith said.
There was a lot of concern from members of the commission over families already struggling to pay the bills because of the pandemic. During this time, there are resources for families, which can be found by contacting the Department of Commerce Energy Assistance Program: Call 800-657-3710, and press 1, or visit the Commerce Department’s Energy Assistance Program online.
Statement from Governor Tim Walz on the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission’s decision to open an investigation:
"I, like so many around the nation, witnessed how last week’s cold weather led to a grid failure that devastatingly left families in Texas without reliable access to power and heat for days. Thankfully, Minnesotans did not experience prolonged energy shortages last week, a testament to the benefits of Minnesota’s effective energy planning and regulation and the skilled work of our frontline utility workers. Even so, it is clear the events of last week will be felt in our state. While we are just beginning to understand the implications of last week’s spike in natural gas prices, it is important that we work together and proactively to mitigate the impact on families and small businesses. I am glad the Public Utilities Commission is opening an investigation, and my administration, through the Department of Commerce, will advocate for Minnesota ratepayers during that process. Our administration is also working with municipal utilities as they navigate the challenges posed by last week’s events. This national natural gas price spike will likely require Federal assistance to address, and as such I will be reaching out to our federal delegation and the Biden Administration to push for additional resources for Minnesota families and businesses—many of whom are already struggling financially from the COVID-19 pandemic—to help reduce the burden of energy costs."